Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary.
Then verily - Or, moreover. The object is to describe the tabernacle in which the service of God was celebrated under the former dispensation, and to show that it had a reference to what was future, and was only an imperfect representation of the reality. It was important to show this, as the Jews regarded the ordinances of the tabernacle and of the whole Levitical service as of divine appointment, and of perpetual obligation. The object of Paul is to prove that they were to give place to a more perfect system, and hence, it was necessary to discuss their real nature.
The first covenant - The word "covenant" is not in the Greek, but is not improperly supplied. The meaning is, that the former arrangement or dispensation had religious rites and services connected with it.
Had also ordinances - Margin, "Ceremonies." The Greek word means "laws, precepts, ordinances;" and the idea is, that there were laws regulating the worship of God. The Jewish institutions abounded with such laws.
And a worldly sanctuary - The word "sanctuary" means a holy place, and is applied to a house of worship, or a temple. Here it may refer either to the temple or to the tabernacle. As the temple was constructed after the same form as the tabernacle, and had the same furniture, the description of the apostle may be regarded as applicable to either of them, and it is difficult to determine which he had in his eye. The term "worldly," applied to "sanctuary," here means that it pertained to this world; it was contradistinguished from the heavenly sanctuary not made with hands where Christ was now gone; compare Hebrews 9:11-24. It does not mean that it was "worldly" in the sense in which that word is now used as denoting the opposite of spiritual, serious, religious; but worldly in the sense that it belonged to the earth rather than to heaven; it was made by human hands, not directly by the hands of God.
For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary.
For there was a tabernacle made - The word "tabernacle" properly means a tent, a booth, or a hut, and was then given by way of eminence to the tent for public worship made by Moses in the wilderness. For a description of this, see Exodus 26. In this place the word means the "outer sanctuary" or "room" in the tabernacle; that is, the "first" room which was entered - called here "the first." The same word - σκηνή skēnē - is used in Hebrews 9:3 to denote the "inner" sanctuary, or holy of holies. The tabernacle, like the temple afterward, was divided into two parts by the veil Exodus 26:31, Exodus 26:33, one of which was called "the holy place," and the other "the holy of holies." The exact size of the two rooms in the tabernacle is not specified in the Scriptures, but it is commonly supposed that the tabernacle was divided in the same manner as the temple was afterward; that is, two-thirds of the interior constituted the holy place, and one-third the holy of holies. According to this, the holy place, or "first tabernacle" was twenty cubits long by ten broad, and the most holy place was ten cubits square. The whole length of the tabernacle was about fifty-five feet, the breadth eighteen, and the height eighteen. In the temple, the two rooms, though of the same relative proportions, were of course much larger. See a description of the temple in the notes on Matthew 21:12. In both cases, the holy place was at the east, and the Holy of Holies at the west end of the sacred edifice.
The first - The first room on entering the sacred edifice, here called the "first tabernacle." The apostle proceeds now to enumerate the various articles of furniture which were in the two rooms of the tabernacle and temple. His object seems to be, not for information, for it could not be supposed that they to whom he was writing were ignorant on this point, but partly to show that it could not be said that he spoke of that of which he had no information, or that he undervalued it; and partly to show the real nature of the institution, and to prove that it was of an imperfect and typical character, and had a designed reference to something that was to come. It is remarkable that though he maintains that the whole institution was a "figure" of what was to come, and though he specifies by name all the furniture of the tabernacle, he does not attempt to explain their particular typical character, nor does he affirm that they had such a character.
He does not say that the candlestick, and the table of show-bread, and the ark, and the cherubim were designed to adumbrate some particular truth or fact of the future dispensation, or had a designed spiritual meaning. It would have been happy if all expositors had followed the example of Paul, and had been content, as he was, to state the facts about the tabernacle, and the general truth that the dispensation was intended to introduce a more perfect economy, without endeavoring to explain the typical import of every pin and pillar of the ancient place of worship. If those things had such a designed typical reference, it is remarkable that Paul did not go into an explanation of that fact in the Epistle before us. Never could a better opportunity for doing it occur than was furnished here. Yet it was not done. Paul is silent where many expositors have found occasion for admiration. Where they have seen the profoundest wisdom, he saw none; where they have found spiritual instruction in the various implements of divine service in the sanctuary, he found none.
Why should we be more wise than he was? Why attempt to hunt for types and shadows where he found none? And why should we not be limited to the views which he actually expressed in regard to the design and import of the ancient dispensation? Following an inspired example we are on solid ground, and are not in danger. But the moment we leave that, and attempt to spiritualize everything in the ancient economy, we are in an open sea without compass or chart, and no one knows to what fairy lands he may be drifted. As there are frequent allusions in the New Testament to the different parts of the tabernacle furniture here specified, it may be a matter of interest and profit to furnish an illustration of the most material of them.
(Without attempting to explain the typical import of every pin and pillar of the tabernacle, one may be excused for thinking, that such prominent parts of its furniture, as the ark, the candlestick, and the cherubim, were designed as types. Nor can it be wrong to inquire into the spiritual significancy of them, under such guidance as the light of Scripture, here or affords elsewhere. This has been done by a host of most sober and learned commentators. It is of no use to allege, that the apostle himself has given no particular explanation of these matters, since this would have kept him back too long from his main object; and is, therefore, expressly declined by him. "Yet," says McLean, his manner of declining it implies, that each of these sacred utensils had a mystical signification. They were all constructed according to particular divine directions, Exodus 25. The apostle terms them, "the example and shadow of heavenly things," Hebrews 8:5; "the patterns of things in the heavens, Hebrews 9:23; and these typical patterns included not only the tabernacle and its services, but every article of its furniture, as is plain from the words of Moses, Exodus 25:8-9. There are also other passages which seem to allude to, and even to explain, some of these articles, such as the golden candlestick, with its seven lamps, Revelation 1:12-13, Revelation 1:20; the golden censer, Revelation 8:3-4; the vail, Hebrews 10:20; the mercy-seat, Romans 3:25; Hebrews 4:16; and, perhaps, the angelic cherubim, 1 Peter 1:12." It must, however, be acknowledged that too great care and caution cannot be used in investigating such subjects.)
The candlestick - For an account of the candlestick, see Exodus 25:31-37. It was made of pure gold, and had seven branches, that is, three on each side and one in the center. These branches had on the extremities seven golden lamps, which were fed with pure olive oil, and which were lighted "to give light over against it;" that is, they shed light on the altar of incense, the table of show-bread, and generally on the furniture of the holy place. These branches were made with three "bowls," "knops," and "flowers" occurring alternately on each one of the six branches; while on the center or upright shaft there were four "bowls," "knops" and "flowers" of this kind. These ornaments were probably taken from the almond, and represented the flower of that tree in various stages. The "bowls" on the branches of the candlestick probably meant the calyx or cup of that plant from which the flower springs.
The "knops" probably referred to some ornament on the candlestick mingled with the "bowls" and the "flowers," perhaps designed as an imitation of the nut or fruit of the almond. The "flowers" were evidently ornaments resembling the flowers on the almond-tree, wrought, as all the rest were, in pure gold. See Bush's notes on Exodus 25. The candlestick was undoubtedly designed to furnish light in the dark room of the tabernacle and temple; and in accordance with the general plan of those edifices, was ornamented after the most chaste and pure views of ornamental architecture of those times - but there is no evidence that its branches, and bowls, and knops, and flowers each had a special typical significance. The sacred writers are wholly silent as to any such reference, and it is not well to attempt to be "wise above that which is written." An expositor of the Scripture cannot have a safer guide than the sacred writers themselves.
How should any uninspired man know that these things had such a special typical signification? The candlestick was placed on the south, or lefthand side of the holy place as one entered, the row of lamps being probably parallel with the wall. It was at first placed in the tabernacle, and afterward removed into the temple built by Solomon. Its subsequent history is unknown. Probably it was destroyed when the temple was taken by the Chaldeans. The form of the candlestick in the second temple, whose figure is preserved on the "Arch of Titus" in Rome, was of somewhat different construction. But it is to be remembered that the articles taken away from the temple by Vespasian were not the same as those made by Moses, and Josephus says expressly that the candlestick was altered from its original form.
And the table - That is, the table on which the showbread was placed. This table was made of shittim-wood, overlaid with gold. It was two cubits long, and one cubit broad, and a cubit and a half high; that is, about three feet and a half in length, one foot and nine inches wide, and two feet and a half in height. It was furnished with rings or staples, through which were passed staves, by which it was carried. These staves, we are informed by Josephus, were removed when the table was at rest, so that they might not be in the way of the priest as they officiated in the tabernacle. It stood lengthwise east and west, on the north side of the holy place.
And the show-bread - On the table just described. This bread consisted of twelve loaves, placed on the table, every Sabbath. The Hebrews affirm that they were square loaves, having the four sides covered with leaves of gold. They were arranged in two piles, of course with six in a pile; Leviticus 24:5-9. The number twelve was selected with reference to the twelve tribes of Israel. They were made without leaven; were renewed each Sabbath, when the old loaves were then taken away to be eaten by the priests only. The Hebrew phrase rendered "show-bread" means properly "bread of faces," or "bread of presence." The Septuagint render it ἄρτους ἐνώπιους artous enōpious - foreplaced loaves. In the New Testament it is, ἡ πρόθεσις τῶν ἄρτων hē prothesis tōn artōn - "the placing of bread;" and in Symmachus, "bread of proposition," or placing. Why it was called "bread of presence" has been a subject on which expositors have been much divided.
Some have held that it was because it was "before," or in the presence of the symbol of the divine presence in the tabernacle, though in another department; some that it was because it was set there to be seen by people, rather than to be seen by God. Others that it had an emblematic design, looking forward to the Messiah as the food or nourishment of the soul, and was substantially the same as the table spread with the symbols of the Saviour's body and blood. See Bush, in loc. But of this last-mentioned opinion, it may be asked where is the proof? It is not found in the account of it in the Old Testament, and there is not the slightest intimation in the New Testament that it had any such design. The object for which it was placed there can be only a matter of conjecture, as it is not explained in the Bible, and it is more difficult to ascertain the use and design of the show-bread than of almost any other emblem of the Jewish economy."
Calmet. Perhaps the true idea, after all that has been written and conjectured is, that the table and the bread were for the sake of carrying out the idea that the tabernacle was the dwelling-place of God, and that there was a propriety that it should be prepared with the usual appurtenances of a dwelling. Hence, there was a candlestick and a table, because these were the common and ordinary furniture of a room; and the idea was to be kept up constantly that that was the dwelling-place of the Most High by lighting and trimming the lamps every day, and by renewing the bread on the table periodically. The most simple explanation of the phrase "bread of faces," or "bread of presence" is, that it was so called because it was set before the "face" or in the "presence" of God in the tabernacle. The various forms which it has been supposed would represent the table of showbread may be seen in Calmet's Large Dictionary. The Jews say that they were separated by plates of gold.
Which is called the sanctuary - Margin, "Or, holy." That is, "the holy place." The name sanctuary was commonly given to the whole edifice, but with strict propriety appertained only to this first room.
And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all;
And after the second veil - There were two "veils" to the tabernacle. The one which is described in Exodus 26:36-37, was called "the hanging for the door of the tent," and was made of "blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen," and was suspended on five pillars of shittim-wood, overlaid with gold. This answered for a door to the whole tabernacle. The second or inner veil, here referred to, divided the holy from the most holy place. This is described in Exodus 26:31-33. It was made of the same materials as the other, though it would seem in a more costly manner, and with more embroidered work. On this veil the figures of the cherubim were curiously wrought. The design of this veil was to separate the holy from the most holy place; and in regard to its symbolical meaning we can be at no loss, for the apostle Paul has himself explained it in this chapter; see notes on Hebrews 9:8-14. "The tabernacle." That is, the inner tabernacle; or what more properly was called the tabernacle. The name was given to either of the two rooms into which it was divided, or to the whole structure.
Which is called the Holiest of all - It was called "the Most Holy place;" "the Holy of Holies;" or "the Holiest of all." It was so called because the symbol of the divine presence - the "Shekinah" - dwelt there between the Cherubim.
Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant;
Which had the golden censer - The censer was a "fire-pan," made for the purpose of carrying fire, in order to burn incense on it in the place of worship. The forms of the censer were various. Some difficulty has been felt respecting the statement of Paul here that the "golden censer" was in the most holy place, from the fact that no such utensil is mentioned by Moses as pertaining to the tabernacle, nor in the description of Solomon's temple, which was modelled after the tabernacle, is there any account of it given. But the following considerations will probably remove the difficulty.
(1) Paul was a Jew, and was familiar with what pertained to the temple, and gave such a description of it as would be in accordance with what actually existed in his time. The fact that Moses does not expressly mention it, does not prove that in fact no such censer was laid up in the most holy place.
(2) Aaron and his successors were expressly commanded to burn incense in a "censer" in the most holy place before the mercy-seat. This was to be done on the great day of atonement, and but once in a year; Leviticus 16:12-13.
(3) there is every probability that the censer that was used on such an occasion was made of gold. All the implements that were employed in the most holy place were made of gold, or overlaid with gold, and it is in the highest degree improbable that the high priest would use any other on so solemn an occasion; compare 1 Kings 7:50.
(4) as the golden censer was to be used only once in a year, it would naturally be laid away in some secure situation, and none would so obviously occur as the most holy place. There it would be perfectly safe. No one was permitted to enter there but the high priest, and being preserved there it would be always ready for his use. The statement of Paul, therefore, has the highest probability, and undoubtedly accords with what actually occurred in the tabernacle and the temple. The object of the incense burned in worship was to produce an agreeable fragrance or smell; see notes on Luke 1:9.
And the ark of the covenant - This ark or chest was made of shittim-wood, was two cubits and a half long, a cubit and a half broad, and the same in height; Exodus 25:10. It was completely covered with gold, and had a "lid," which was called the "mercy-seat," on which rested the Shekinah, the symbol of the divine presence, between the outstretched wings of the cherubim. It was called "the ark of the covenant," because within it were the two tables of the covenant, or the Law of God written on tables of stone. It was a simple "chest, coffer, or box," with little ornament, though rich in its materials. A golden crown or molding ran around the top, and it had rings and staves in its sides by which it might be borne; Exodus 25:12-16. This ark was regarded as the most sacred of all the appendages of the tabernacle. Containing the Law, and being the place where the symbol of the divine presence was manifested, it was regarded as especially holy, and in the various wars and revolutions in the Hebrew commonwealth, it was guarded with special care.
After the passage over the Jordan it remained for some time at Gilgal Joshua 4:19, whence it was removed to Shiloh; 1 Samuel 1:3. From hence, the Israelites took it to their camp, apparently to animate them in battle, but it was taken by the Philistines; 1 Samuel 4. The Philistines, however, oppressed by the hand of God, resolved to return it, and sent it to Kirjath-Jearim; 1 Samuel 7:1. In the reign of Saul it was at Nob. David conveyed it to the house of Obededom, and thence to his palace on Mount Zion; 2 Samuel 6. At the dedication of the temple it was placed in the Holy of Holies by Solomon, where it remained for many years. Subsequently, it is said, the wicked kings of Judah, abandoning themselves to idolatry, established idols in the most holy place itself, and the priests removed the ark, and bore it from place to place to secure it from profanation. "Calmet." When Josiah ascended the throne he commanded the priests to restore the ark to its place in the sanctuary, and forbade them to carry it about from one place to another as they had before done; 2 Chronicles 35:3. The subsequent history of the ark is unknown. It is probable that it was either destroyed when the city of Jerusalem was taken by Nebuchadnezzar, or that it was carried with other spoils to Babylon, There is no good reason to suppose that it was ever in the second temple, and it is generally admitted by the Jews that the ark of the covenant was one of the things that were wanting there. Abarbanel says, that the Jews flatter themselves that it will be restored by the Messiah.
Wherein - That is, in the ark - for so the construction naturally requires. In 1 Kings 8:9, however, it is said that there was nothing in the ark, "save the two tables of stone which Moses put there at Horeb," and it has been supposed by some that the pot of manna and the rod of Aaron were not in the ark, but that they were in capsules, or ledges made on its sides for their safe keeping, and that this should be rendered "by the ark." But the apostle uses the same language respecting the pot of manna and the rod of Aaron which he does about the two tables of stone, and as they were certainly in the ark, the fair construction here is that the pot of manna and the rod of Aaron were in it also. The account in Exodus 16:32-34; Numbers 17:10, is, that they were laid up in the most holy place, "before the testimony," and there is no improbability whatever in the supposition that they were in the ark. Indeed, that would be the most safe place to keep them, as the tabernacle was often taken down and removed from place to place. It is clear from the passage in 1 Kings 8:9, that they were not in the ark in the temple, but there is no improbability in the supposition that before the temple was built they might have been removed from the ark and lost. When the ark was carried from place to place, or during its captivity by the Philistines, it is probable that they were lost, as we never hear of them afterward.
The golden pot - In Exodus 16:33, it is simply "a pot," without specifying the material. In the Septuagint it is rendered "golden pot," and as the other utensils of the sanctuary were of gold, it may be fairly presumed that this was also.
That had manna - A small quantity of manna which was to be preserved as a perpetual remembrancer of the food which they had eaten in their long journey in the wilderness, and of the goodness of God in miraculously supplying their wants. As the manna, also, would not of itself keep, Exodus 16:20, the fact that this was to be laid up to be preserved from age to age, was a perpetual miracle in proof of the presence and faithfulness of God. On the subject of the manna, see Bush's notes on Exodus 16:15.
And Aaron's rod that budded - That budded and blossomed as a proof that God had chosen him to minister to him. The princes of the tribes were disposed to rebel, and to call in question the authority of Aaron. To settle the matter, each one was required to take a rod or staff of office, and to bring it to Moses with the name of the tribe to which it appertained written on it. These were laid up by Moses in the tabernacle, and it was found on the next day that the rod marked with the name of Levi had budded and blossomed, and produced almonds. In perpetual remembrance of this miracle, the rod was preserved in the ark; Numbers 17:1-13. Its subsequent history is unknown. It was not in the ark when the temple was built, nor is there any reason to suppose that it was preserved to that time.
And the tables of the covenant - The two tables of stone on which the ten commandments were written. They were expressly called "the words of the covenant" in Exodus 34:28. On the word "covenant"; see notes on Hebrews 9:16 and 17 of this chapter. These two tables were in the ark at the time the temple was dedicated. 1 Kings 8:9. Their subsequent history is unknown. It is probable that they shared the fate of the ark, and were either carried to Babylon, or were destroyed when the city was taken by Nebuchadnezzar.
And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly.
And over it - That is, over the ark.
The cherubim of glory - A Hebrew mode of expression, meaning "the glorious cherubim." The word "cherubim" is the Hebrew form of the plural, of which cherub is the singular. The word "glory" used here in connection with "cherubim," refers to the splendor, or magnificence of the image, as being carved with great skill, and covered with gold. There were two cherubim on the ark, placed on the lid in such a manner that their faces looked inward toward each other, and downward toward the mercy-seat. They stretched out their wings "on high," and covered the mercy-seat, or the lid of the ark; Exodus 25:18-20; compare 1 Kings 8:6-7; 1 Chronicles 28:18. In the temple, the cherubim were made of the olive tree, and were ten cubits high. They were overlaid with gold, and were so placed that the wing of one touched the wall on one side of the Holy of Holies, and that of the other the other side, and their wings met together over the ark; 1 Kings 6:23-28.
It is not probable, however, that this was the form used in the tabernacle, as wings thus expanded would have rendered it inconvenient to carry them from place to place. Of the form and design of the cherubim much has been written, and much that is the mere creation of fancy, and the fruit of wild conjecture. Their design is not explained in the Bible, and silence in regard to it would have been wisdom. If they were intended to be symbolical, as is certainly possible, (compare Ezekiel 10:20-22), it is impossible now to determine the object of the symbol. Who is authorized to explain it? Who can give to his speculations anything more than the authority of "pious conjecture?" And of what advantage, therefore, can speculation be, where the volume of inspiration says nothing? They who wish to examine this subject more fully, with the various opinions that have been formed on it, may consult the following works, namely, Calmet's Dictionary, Fragment No. 152, with the numerous illustrations; Bush's notes on Exodus 25:18; and the Quarterly Christian Spectator, vol. viii. pp. 368-388. Drawings resembling the cherubim were not uncommon on ancient sculptures.
Shadowing - Stretching out its wings so as to cover the mercy-seat.
The mercy-seat - The cover of the ark on which rested the cloud or visible symbol of the divine presence. It was called "mercy-seat," or "propitiatory" - ἱλαστήριον hilastērion - because it was this which was sprinkled over with the blood of atonement or propitiation, and because it was from this place, on which the symbol of the deity rested, that God manifested himself as propitious to sinners. The blood of the atonement was that through or by means of which he declared his mercy to the guilty. Here God was supposed to be seated, and from this place he was supposed to dispense mercy to man when the blood of the atonement was sprinkled there. This was undoubtedly designed to be a symbol of his dispensing mercy to people in virtue of the blood which the Saviour shed as the great sacrifice for guilt; see Hebrews 9:13-14.
Of which we cannot now speak particularly - That is, it is not my present design to speak particularly of these things. These matters were well understood by those to whom he wrote, and his object did not require him to go into a fuller explanation.
Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God.
When these things were thus ordained - Thus arranged or appointed. Having shown what the tabernacle was, the apostle proceeds to show what was done in it. "The priests went always into the first tabernacle." The outer tabernacle called the holy place. They were not permitted to enter the Holy of Holies, that being entered only once in a year by the High Priest. The holy place was entered every day to make the morning and evening oblation.
Accomplishing the service of God - Performing the acts of worship which God had appointed - burning incense, etc.; Luke 1:9.
But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people:
But into the second - The second apartment or room, called the most holy place; Hebrews 9:3.
Went the high priest alone once every year - On the great day of atonement; Exodus 30:10. On that day he probably entered the Holy of Holies three or four times, first to burn incense, Leviticus 16:12; then to sprinkle the blood of the bullock on the mercy-seat, Leviticus 16:14; then he was to kill the goat of the sin-offering, and bring that blood within the Veil and sprinkle it also on the mercy-seat, and then, perhaps, he entered again to bring out the golden censer. The Jewish tradition is, that he entered the Holy of Holies four times on that day. After all, however, the number of times is not certain, nor is it material, the only important point being that he entered it only on one day of the year, while the holy place was entered every day.
Not without blood - That is, he bare with him blood to sprinkle on the mercy-seat. This was the blood of the bullock and of the goat - borne in at two different times.
Which he offered for himself - The blood of the bullock was offered for himself and for his house or family - thus keeping impressively before his own mind and the mind of the people the fact that the priests even of the highest order were sinners, and needed expiation like others; Leviticus 9:7.
And for the errors of the people - The blood of the goat was offered for them; Leviticus 16:15. The word rendered "errors" - ἀγνόημα agnoēma - denotes properly "ignorance, involuntary error;" and then error or fault in general - the same as the Hebrew משׁגה mishgeh - from שׁגה shaagah - "to err." The object was to make expiation for all the errors and sins of the people, and this occurred once in the year. The repetition of these sacrifices was a constant remembrancer of sin, and the design was that neither the priests nor the people should lose sight of the fact that they were violators of the Law of God.
The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing:
The Holy Ghost - Who appointed all this. The whole arrangement in the service of the tabernacle is represented as having been under the direction of the Holy Spirit, or this was one of his methods of teaching the great truths of religion, and of keeping them before the minds of people. Sometimes that Spirit taught by direct revelation; sometimes by the written word, and sometimes by symbols. The tabernacle, with its different apartments, utensils, and services, was a permanent means of keeping important truths before the minds of the ancient people of God.
This signifying - That is, showing this truth, or making use of this arrangement to impress this truth on the minds of people that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest.
That the way into the holiest of all - Into heaven - of which the Most Holy place in the tabernacle was undoubtedly designed to be an emblem. It was the place where the visible symbol of God - the Shekinah - dwelt; where the blood of propitiation was sprinkled, and was, therefore, an appropriate emblem of that holy heaven where God dwells, and whence pardon is obtained by the blood of the atonement.
Was not yet made manifest - The way to heaven was not opened or fully understood. It was not known how people could appear before God, or how they could come with the hope of pardon. That way has now been opened by the ascension of the Redeemer to heaven, and by the assurance that all who will may come in his name.
While as the first tabernacle was yet standing - As long as it stood, and the appointed services were held in it. The idea is, that until it was superseded by a more perfect system, it was a "proof" that the way to heaven was not yet fully and freely optioned, and that the Holy Spirit "designed" that it should be such a proof. The apostle does not specify in what the proof consisted, but it may have been in something like the following.
(1) it was a mere "symbol," and not the "reality" - showing that the true way was not yet fully understood.
(2) it was entered but once a year - showing that there was not access at all times.
(3) it was entered only by the High Priest - showing that there was not free end full access to all the people.
(4) it was accessible only by Jews - showing that the way in which all men might be saved was not then fully revealed.
The sense is, that it was a system of types and shadows, in which there were many burdensome rites and many things to prevent people from coming before the symbol of the divinity, and was, therefore, an "imperfect system." All these obstructions are now removed; the Saviour - the great High Priest of his people - has entered heaven and "opened it to all true believers," and all of every nation may now have free access to God; see Hebrews 9:12; compare Hebrews 10:19-22.
Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience;
Which was a figure for the time then present - That is, as long as the tabernacle stood. The word rendered "figure" - παραβολὴ parabolē - is not the same as type - τύπος tupos - (Romans 5:14; Acts 7:13, Acts 7:44; John 20:25; 1 Corinthians 10:6, 1 Corinthians 10:11; Philippians 3:17, et al.) - but is the word commonly rendered "parable;" Matthew 13:3, Matthew 13:10, Matthew 13:13, Matthew 13:18, Matthew 13:24, Matthew 13:31, Matthew 13:33-36, Matthew 13:53; Matthew 15:15, "et soepe," and means properly "a placing side by side;" then a "comparison, or similitude." Here it is used in the sense of "image, or symbol" - something to "represent" other things. The idea is, that the arrangements and services of the tabernacle were a representation of important realities, and of things which were more fully to be revealed at a future period. There can be no doubt that Paul meant to say that this service in general was symbolical or typical, though this will not authorize us to attempt to spiritualize every minute arrangement of it. Some of the things in which it was typical are specified by the apostle himself, and wisdom and safety in explaining the arrangements of the tabernacle and its services consist in adhering very closely to the explanations furnished by the inspired writers. An interpreter is on an open sea, to be driven he knows not whither, when he takes leave of these safe pilots.
Both gifts - Thank-offerings.
And sacrifices - Bloody offerings. The idea is, that all kinds of offerings to God were made there.
That could not make him that did the service perfect - That could not take away sin, and remove the stains of guilt on the soul; note, Hebrews 7:11; compare Hebrews 8:7; Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 10:1, Hebrews 10:11.
As pertaining to the conscience - They related mainly to outward and ceremonial rites, and even when offerings were made for sin the conscience was not relieved. They could not expiate guilt; they could not make the soul pure; they could not of themselves impart peace to the soul by reconciling it to God. They could not fully accomplish what the conscience needed to have done in order to give it peace. Nothing will do this but the blood of the Redeemer.
Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.
Which stood only in meats and drinks - The idea is, that the ordinances of the Jews, in connection with the services of religion, consisted much of laws pertaining to what was lawful to eat and drink, etc. A considerable part of those laws related to the distinction between clean and unclean beasts, and to such arrangements as were designed to keep them externally distinct from other nations. It is possible also that there may be a reference here to meat and drink offerings. On the grammatical difficulties of this verse, see Stuart on the Hebrews, in loc.
And divers washings - The various ablutions which were required in the service of the tabernacle and the temple - washing of the hands, of the victim that was to be offered, etc. It was for this purpose that the laver was erected in front of the tabernacle Exodus 30:18; Exodus 31:9; Exodus 35:16, and that the brass sea and the lavers were constructed in connection with the temple of Solomon; 2 Chronicles 4:2-5; 1 Kings 7:26. The Greek word here is "baptisms." On its meaning, see Matthew 3:6 note; Mark 7:4 note.
And carnal ordinances - Margin, "Or, rites, or ceremonies." Greek "Ordinances of the flesh;" that is, which pertained to the flesh or to external ceremonies. The object was rather to keep them "externally" pure than to cleanse the conscience and make them holy in heart.
Imposed on them - "Laid on them" - ἐπικέιμενα epikeimena. It does not mean that there was any "oppression" or "injustice" in regard to these ordinances, but that they were appointed for a temporary purpose.
Until the time of reformation - The word rendered here "reformation" - διόρθωσις diorthōsis - means properly "emendation, improvement, reform." It refers to putting a thing in a right condition; making it better; or raising up and restoring what is fallen down. Passow. Here the reference is undoubtedly to the gospel as being a better system - "a putting things where they ought to be;" compare notes on Acts 3:21. The idea here is, that those ordinances were only temporary in their nature, and were designed to endure until a more perfect system should be introduced. They were of value "to introduce" that better system; they were not adapted to purify the conscience and remove the stains of guilt from the soul.
But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;
But Christ being come - Now that the Messiah has come, a more perfect system is introduced by which the conscience may be made free from guilt.
An high priest of good things to come - see Hebrews 10:1. The apostle having described the tabernacle, and shown wherein it was defective in regard to the real wants of sinners, proceeds now to describe the Christian system, and to show how that met the real condition of man, and especially how it was adapted to remove sin from the soul. The phrase "high priest of good things to come," seems to refer to those "good things" which belonged to the dispensation that was to come; that is, the dispensation under the Messiah. The Jews anticipated great blessings in that time. They looked forward to better things than they enjoyed under the old dispensation. They expected more signal proofs of the divine favor; a clearer knowledge of the way of pardon; and more eminent spiritual enjoyments. Of these, the apostle says that Christ, who had come, was now the high priest. It was he by whom they were procured; and the time had actually arrived when they might enjoy the long-anticipated good things under the Messiah.
By a greater and more perfect tabernacle - The meaning is, that Christ officiated as high priest in a much more magnificent and perfect temple than either the tabernacle or the temple under the old dispensation. He performed the great functions of his priestly office - the sprinkling of the blood of the atonement - in heaven itself, of which the most holy place in the tabernacle was but the emblem. The Jewish high priest entered the sanctuary made with hands to minister before God; Christ entered into heaven itself. The word "by" here - διὰ dia - means probably through, and the idea is, that Christ passed through a more perfect tabernacle on his way to the mercy-seat in heaven than the Jewish high priest did when he passed through the outer tabernacle Hebrews 9:2 and through the veil into the most holy place. Probably the idea in the mind of the writer was that of the Saviour passing through the "visible heavens" above us, to which the veil, dividing the holy from the most holy place in the temple, bore some resemblance. Many, however, have understood the word "tabernacle" here as denoting the "body of Christ" (see Grotius and Bloomfield in loc.); and according to this the idea is, that Christ, by means of his own body and blood offered as a sacrifice, entered into the most holy place in heaven. But it seems to me that the whole scope of the passage requires us to understand it of the more perfect temple in heaven where Christ performs his ministry, and of which the tabernacle of the Hebrews was but the emblem. Christ did not belong to the tribe of Levi; he was not an high priest of the order of Aaron; he did not enter the holy place on earth, but he entered the heavens, and perfects the work of his ministry there.
Not made with hands - A phrase that properly describes heaven as being prepared by God himself; see notes on 2 Corinthians 5:1.
Not of this building - Greek "of this "creation" - κτίσεως ktiseōs. The meaning is, that the place where he officiates is not made by human power and art, but is the work of God. The object is to show that his ministry is altogether more perfect than what could be rendered by a Jewish priest, and performed in a temple which could not have been reared by human skill and power.
Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.
Neither by the blood of goats and calves - The Jewish sacrifice consisted of the shedding of the blood of animals. On the great day of the atonement the high priest took with him into the most holy place:
(2) the blood of a goat, as a sin-offering for others; Leviticus 16:9, Leviticus 16:15. It was "by," or "by means of" - διὰ dia - blood thus sprinkled on the mercyseat, that the high priest sought the forgiveness of his own sins and the sins of the people.
But by his own blood - That is, by his own blood shed for the remission of sins. The meaning is, that it was in virtue of his own blood, or "by means" of that, that he sought the pardon of his people. That blood was not shed for himself - for he had no sin - and consequently there was a material difference between his offering and that of the Jewish high priest. The difference related to such points as these.
(1) the offering which Christ made was wholly for others; that of the Jewish priest for himself as well as for them.
(2) the blood offered by the Jewish priest was that of animals; that offered by the Saviour was his own.
(3) that offered by the Jewish priest was only an emblem or type - for it could not take away sin; that offered by Christ had a real efficacy, and removes transgression from the soul.
He entered into the holy place - Heaven. The meaning is, that as the Jewish high priest bore the blood of the animal into the Holy of Holies, and sprinkled it there as the means of expiation, so the offering which Christ has to make in heaven, or the consideration on which he pleads for the pardon of his people, is the blood which he shed on Calvary. Having made the atonement, he now pleads the merit of it as a "reason" why sinners should be saved. It is not of course meant that he literally bore his own blood into heaven - as the high priest did the blood of the bullock and the goat into the sanctuary; or that he literally "sprinkled" it on the mercy-seat there, but that that blood, having been shed for sin, is now the ground of his pleading and intercession for the pardon of sin - as the sprinkled blood of the Jewish sacrifice was the ground of the pleading of the Jewish high priest for the pardon of himself and the people.
Having obtained eternal redemption for us - That is, by the shedding of his blood. On the meaning of the word "redemption," see notes on Galatians 3:13. The redemption which the Lord Jesus effected for his people is eternal. It will continue forever. It is not a temporary deliverance leaving the redeemed in danger of falling into sin and ruin, but it makes salvation secure, and in its effects extends through eternity. Who can estimate the extent of that love which purchased for us "such" a redemption? Who can be sufficiently grateful that he is thus redeemed? The doctrine in this verse is, that the blood of Christ is the means of redemption, or atones for sin. In the following verses the apostle shows that it not only makes atonement for sin, but that it is the means of sanctifying or purifying the soul.
For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:
For if the blood of bulls and of goats - Referring still to the great day of atonement, when the offering made was the sacrifice of a bullock and a goat.
And the ashes of an heifer - For an account of this, see Numbers 19:2-10. In ver. 9, it is said that the ashes of the heifer, after it was burnt, should be kept "for a water of separation; it is a purification for sin." That is, the ashes were to be carefully preserved, and being mixed with water were sprinkled on those who were from any cause ceremonially impure. The "reason" for this appears to have been that the heifer was considered as a sacrifice whose blood has been offered, and the application of the ashes to which she had been burnt was regarded as an evidence of participation in that sacrifice. It was needful, where the laws were so numerous respecting external pollutions, or where the members of the Jewish community were regarded as so frequently "unclean" by contact with dead bodies, and in various other ways, that there should be some method in which they could be declared to be cleansed from their "uncleanness." The nature of these institutions also required that this should be in connection with "sacrifice," and in order to this, it was arranged that there should be this "permanent sacrifice" - the ashes of the heifer that had been sacrificed - of which they could avail themselves at any time, without the expense and delay of making a bloody offering specifically for the occasion. It was, therefore, a provision of convenience, and at the same time was designed to keep up the idea, that all purification was somehow connected with the shedding of blood.
Sprinkling the unclean - Mingled with water, and sprinkled on the unclean. The word "unclean" here refers to such as had been defiled by contact with dead bodies, or when one had died in the family, etc.; see Numbers 19:11-22.
Sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh - Makes holy so far as the flesh or body is concerned. The uncleanness here referred to related to the body only, and of course the means of cleansing extended only to that. It was not designed to give peace to the conscience, or to expiate moral offences. The offering thus made removed the obstructions to the worship of God so far as to allow him who had been defiled to approach him in a regular manner. Thus, much the apostle allows was accomplished by the Jewish rites. They had an efficacy in removing ceremonial uncleanness, and in rendering it proper that he who had been polluted should be permitted again to approach and worship God. The apostle goes on to argue that if they had such an efficacy, it was fair to presume that the blood of Christ would have far greater efficacy, and would reach to the conscience itself, and make that pure.
How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
How much more shall the blood of Christ - As being infinitely more precious than the blood of an animal could possibly be. If the blood of an animal had any efficacy at all, even in removing ceremonial pollutions, how much more is it reasonable to suppose may be effected by the blood of the Son of God!
Who through the eternal Spirit - This expression is very difficult, and has given rise to a great variety of interpretation. - Some mss. instead of "eternal" here, read "holy," making it refer directly to the Holy Spirit; see "Wetstein." These various readings, however, are not regarded as of sufficient authority to lead to a change in the text, and are of importance only as showing that it was an early opinion that the Holy Spirit is here referred to. The principal opinions which have been entertained of the meaning of this phrase, are the following.
(1) that which regards it as referring to the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. This was the opinion of Owen, Doddridge, and archbishop Tillotson.
(2) that which refers it to the "divine nature" of Christ. Among those who have maintained this opinion, are Beza, Ernesti, Wolf, Vitringa, Storr, and the late Dr. John P. Wilson. mss. Notes.
(3) others, as Grotius, Rosenmuller, Koppe, understand it as meaning "endless" or "immortal life," in contradistinction from the Jewish sacrifices which were of a perishable nature, and which needed so often to be repeated.
(4) others regard it as referring to the glorified person of the Saviour, meaning that in his exalted, or spiritual station in heaven, he presents the efficacy of his blood.
(5) others suppose that it means "divine influence," and that the idea is, that Christ was actuated and filled with a divine influence when he offered up himself as a sacrifice; an influence which was not of a temporal and fleeting nature, but which was eternal in its efficacy. This is the interpretation preferred by Prof. Stuart.
For an examination of these various opinions, see his "Excursus, xviii." on this Epistle. It is difficult, if not impossible, to decide what is the true meaning of the passage amidst this diversity of opinion; but there are some reasons which seem to me to make it probable that the Holy Spirit is intended, and that the idea is, that Christ made his great sacrifice under "the extraordinary influences of that Eternal Spirit." The reasons which lead me to this opinion, are the following:
(1) It is what would occur to the great mass of the readers of the New Testament. It is presumed that the great body of sober, plain, and intelligent readers of the Bible, on perusing the passage, suppose that it refers to the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. There are few better and safer rules for the interpretation of a volume designed like the Bible for the mass of mankind, than to abide by the sense in which they understand it.
(2) this interpretation is one which is most naturally conveyed by the language of the original. The phrase "the spirit" - τὸ πνέυμα to pneuma - has so far a technical and established meaning in the New Testament as to denote the Holy Spirit, unless there is something in the connection which renders such an application improper. In this case there is nothing certainly which "necessarily" forbids such an application. The high names and Classical authority of those who have held this opinion, are a sufficient guarantee of this.
(3) this interpretation accords with the fact that the Lord Jesus is represented as having been eminently endowed with the influences of the Holy Spirit; compare notes on John 3:34. Though he was divine, yet he was also a man, and as such was under influences similar to those of other pious people. The Holy Spirit is the source and sustainer of all piety in the soul, and it is not improper to suppose that the man Christ Jesus was in a remarkable manner influenced by the Holy Spirit in his readiness to obey God and to suffer according to his will.
(4) if there was ever any occasion on which we may suppose he was influenced by the Holy Spirit, that of his sufferings and death here referred to may be supposed eminently to have been such an one. It was expressive of the highest state of piety - of the purest love to God and man - which has ever existed in the human bosom; it was the most trying time of his own life; it was the period when there would be the most strong temptation to abandon his work; and as the redemption of the whole world was dependent on that act, it is reasonable to suppose that the richest heavenly grace would be there imparted to him, and that he would then be eminently under the influence of that Spirit which was granted not "by measure unto him." notes, John 3:34.
(5) this representation is not inconsistent with the belief that the sufferings and death of the Redeemer were "voluntary," and had all the merit which belongs to a voluntary transaction. Piety in the heart of a Christian now is not less voluntary because it is produced and cherished by the Holy Spirit, nor is there less excellence in it because the Holy Spirit imparts strong faith in the time of temptation and trial. It seems to me, therefore, that the meaning of this expression is, that the Lord Jesus was led by the strong influences of the Spirit of God to devote himself as a sacrifice for sin. It was not by any temporary influence; not by mere excitement; it was by the influence of the "Eternal" Spirit of God, and the sacrifice thus offered could, therefore, accomplish effects which would be eternal in their character. It was not like the offering made by the Jewish high priest which was necessarily renewed every year, but it was under the influence of one who was "eternal," and the effects of whose influence might be everlasting. It may be added, that if this is a correct exposition, it follows that the Holy Spirit is eternal, and must, therefore, be divine.
Offered himself - That is, as a sacrifice. He did not offer a bullock or a goat, but he offered "himself." The sacrifice of oneself is the highest offering which he can make; in this case it was the highest which the universe had to make.
And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
And for this cause - With this view; that is, to make an effectual atonement for sin, and to provide a way by which the troubled conscience may have peace.
He is the Mediator - see notes on Galatians 3:19-20. He is the Mediator between God and man in respect to that new covenant which he has made, or that new dispensation by which people are to be saved. He stands between God and man - the parties at variance - and undertakes the work of mediation and reconciliation.
Of the New Testament - Not "testament" - for a "testament," or "will," needs no mediator; but of the "new covenant," or the new "arrangement" or "disposition" of things under which he proposes to pardon and save the guilty; see notes on Hebrews 9:16-17.
That by means of death - His own death as a sacrifice for sin. The "old" covenant or arrangement also contemplated "death" - but it was the death of an "animal." The purposes of this were to be effected by the death of the Mediator himself; or this covenant was to be ratified in his blood.
For the redemption of the transgression that were "under the first testament - The covenant or arrangement under Moses. The general idea here is, that these were offences for which no expiation could be made by the sacrifices under that dispensation, or from which the blood then shed could not redeem. This general idea may include two particulars.
(1) that they who had committed transgressions under that covenant, and who could not be fully pardoned by the imperfect sacrifices then made, would receive a full forgiveness of all their sins in the great day of account through the blood of Christ. Though the blood of bulls and goats could not expiate, yet they offered that blood in faith; they relied on the promised mercy of God; they looked forward to a perfect sacrifice - and now the blood of the great atonement offered as a "full" expiation for all their sins, would be the ground of their acquittal in the last day.
(2) that the blood of Christ would now avail for the remission of all those sins which could not be expiated by the sacrifices offered under the Law. It not only contemplated the remission of all the offences committed by the truly pious under that Law, but would now avail to put away sin entirely. No sacrifice which people could offer would avail, but the blood of Christ would remove all that guilt.
That they which are called - Alike under the old covenant and the new.
Might receive the promise of eternal inheritance - That is, the fulfillment of the promise; or that they might be made partakers of eternal blessings. That blood is effectual alike to save those under the ancient covenant and the new - so that they will be saved in the same manner, and unite in the same song of redeeming love.
For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.
For where a testament is - This is the same word - διαθήκη diathēkē - which in Hebrews 8:6, is rendered "covenant." For the general signification of the word, see note on that verse. There is so much depending, however, on the meaning of the word, not only in the interpretation of this passage, but also of other parts of the Bible, that it may be proper to explain it here more at length. The word - διαθήκη diathēkē - occurs in the New Testament thirty-three times. It is translated "covenant" in the common version, in Luke 1:72; Acts 3:25; Acts 7:8; Romans 9:4; Romans 11:27; Galatians 3:15, Galatians 3:17; Galatians 4:24; Ephesians 2:12; Hebrews 8:6, Hebrews 8:9, "twice," Hebrews 8:10; Hebrews 9:4, "twice," Hebrews 10:16; Hebrews 12:24; Hebrews 13:20. In the remaining places it is rendered "testament;" Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6, 2 Corinthians 3:14; Hebrews 7:22; Hebrews 9:15-17, Hebrews 9:20; Revelation 11:19. In four of those instances (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20, and 1 Corinthians 11:25), it is used with reference to the institution or celebration of the Lord's Supper. In the Septuagint it occurs not far from 300 times, in considerably more than 200 times of which it is the translation of the Hebrew word בּרית beriyt.
In one instance Zechariah 11:14 it is the translation of the word "brotherhood;" once Deuteronomy 9:5, of דּבר daabaar - "word;" once Jeremiah 11:2, of "words of the covenant;" once Leviticus 26:11), of "tabernacle;" once Exodus 31:7, of "testimony;" it occurs once Ezekiel 20:37, where the reading of the Greek and Hebrew text is doubtful; and it occurs three times 1 Samuel 11:2; 1 Samuel 20:8; 1 Kings 8:9, where there is no corresponding word in the Hebrew text. From this use of the word by the authors of the Septuagint, it is evident that they regarded it as the proper translation of the Hebrew - בּרית beriyt, and as conveying the same sense which that word does. It cannot be reasonably doubted that the writers of the New Testament were led to the use of the word, in part, at least, by the fact that they found it occurring so frequently in the version in common use, but it cannot be doubted also that they regarded it as fairly conveying the sense of the word בּרית beriyt. On no principle can it be supposed that inspired and honest people would use a word in referring to transactions in the Old Testament which did not "fairly" convey the idea which the writers of the Old Testament meant to express. The use being thus regarded as settled, there are some "facts" in reference to it which are of great importance in interpreting the New Testament, and in understanding the nature of the "covenant" which God makes with man. These facts are the following:
(1) The word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - is not what properly denotes "compact, agreement," or "covenant." That word is συνθήκη sunthēkē - "syntheke" or in other forms σύνθεσις sunthesis and συνθεσίας sunthesias; or if the word "diatheke" is used in that signification it is only remotely, and as a secondary meaning; see "Passow;" compare the Septuagint in Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 30:1; Daniel 11:6, and Wisdom Daniel 1:16; 1 Macc. 10:26; 2 Macc. 13:25; 14:26. It is not the word which a "Greek" would have employed to denote a "compact" or "covenant." He would have employed it to denote a "disposition, ordering," or "arrangement" of things, whether of religious rites, civil customs, or property; or if used with reference to a compact, it would have been with the idea of an "arrangement," or "ordering" of matters, not with the primary notion of an agreement with another.
(2) the word properly expressive of a "covenant" or "compact" - συνθήκη sunthēkē - is "never" used in the New Testament. In all the allusions to the transactions between God and man, this word never occurs. From some cause, the writers and speakers in the New Testament seem to have supposed that the word would leave an impression which they did not wish to leave. Though it might have been supposed that in speaking of the various transactions between God and man they would have selected this word, yet with entire uniformity they have avoided it. No one of them - though the word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - has been used by no less than six of them - has been betrayed in a single instance into the use of the word συνθήκη sunthēkē - "syntheke," or has differed from the other writers in the language employed. This cannot be supposed to be the result of concert or collusion, but it must have been founded on some reason which operated equally on all their minds.
(3) in like manner, and with like remarkable uniformity, the word συνθήκη sunthēkē - syntheke - is "never" used in the Septuagint with reference to any arrangement or "covenant" between God and man. Once indeed in the Apocrypha, and but once, it is used in that sense. In the three only other instances in which it occurs in the Septuagint, it is with reference to compacts between man and man; Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 30:1; Daniel 11:6. This remarkable fact that the authors of that version never use the word to denote any transaction between God and man, shows that there must have been some reason for it which acted on their minds with entire uniformity.
(4) it is no less remarkable that neither in the Septuagint nor the New Testament is the word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - "ever" used in the sense of "will" or "testament," unless it be in the case before us. This is conceded on all hands, and is expressly admitted by Prof. Stuart; (Com. on Heb. p. 439), though he defends this use of the word in this passage. - A very important inquiry presents itself here, which has never received a solution generally regarded as satisfactory. It is, why the word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - was selected by the writers of the New Testament to express the nature of the transaction between God and man in the plan of salvation. It might be said indeed that they found this word uniformly used in the Septuagint, and that they employed it as expressing the idea which they wished to convey, with sufficient accuracy. But this is only removing the difficulty one step further back.
Why did the Septuagint adopt this word? Why did they not rather use the common and appropriate Greek word to express the notion of a covenant? A suggestion on this subject has already been made in the notes on Hebrews 8:6; compare Bib. Repository vol. xx. p. 55. Another reason may, however, be suggested for this remarkable fact which is liable to no objection. It is, that in the apprehension of the authors of the Septuagint, and of the writers of the New Testament, the word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - in its original and proper signification "fairly" conveyed the sense of the Hebrew word בּרית beriyt, and that the word συνθήκη sunthēkē - or "compact, agreement," would "not" express that; and "that they never meant to be understood as conveying the idea either that God entered into a compact or covenant with man, or that he made a will." They meant to represent; him as making "an arrangement, a disposition, an ordering" of things, by which his service might be kept up among his people, and by which people might be saved; but they were equally remote from representing him as making a "compact," or a "will." In support of this there may be alleged.
(1) the remarkable uniformity in which the word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - is used, showing that there was some "settled principle" from which they never departed; and,
(2) it is used mainly as the meaning of the word itself. Prof. Stuart has, undoubtedly, given the accurate original sense of the word. "The real, genuine, and original meaning of διαθήκη diathēkē (diatheke) is, "arrangement, disposition," or "disposal" of a thing." P. 440. The word from which it is derived - διατίθημι diatithēmi - means to place apart or asunder; and then to set, arrange, dispose in a certain order. "Passow." From this original signification is derived the use which the word has with singular uniformity in the Scriptures. It denotes the "arrangment, disposition," or "ordering" of things which God made in relation to mankind, by which he designed to keep up his worship on earth, and to save the soul. It means neither covenant nor will; neither compact nor legacy; neither agreement nor testament. It is an "arrangement" of an entirely different order from either of them, and the sacred writers with an uniformity which could have been secured only by the presiding influence of the One Eternal Spirit, have avoided the suggestion that God made with man either a "compact" or a "will."
We have no word which precisely expresses this idea, and hence, our conceptions are constantly floating between a "compact" and a "will," and the views which we have are as unsettled as they are. unscriptural. The simple idea is, that God has made an "arrangement" by which his worship may be celebrated and souls saved. Under the Jewish economy this arrangement assumed one form; under the Christian another. In neither was it a compact or covenant between two parties in such a sense that one party would be at liberty to reject the terms proposed; in neither was it a testament or will, as if God had left a legacy to man, but in both there were some things in regard to the arrangement such as are found in a covenant or compact. One of those things - equally appropriate to a compact between man and man and to this arrangement, the apostle refers to here - that it implied in all cases the death of the victim.
If these remarks are well-founded, they should be allowed materially to shape our views in the interpretation of the Bible. Whole treatises of divinity have been written on a mistaken view of the meaning of this word - understood as meaning "covenant." Volumes of angry controversy have been published on the nature of the "covenant" with Adam, and on its influence on his posterity. The only literal "covenant" which can he supposed in the plan of redemption is that between the Father and the Son - though even the existence of such a covenant is rather the result of devout and learned imagining than of any distinct statement in the volume of inspiration. The simple statement there is, that God has made an arrangement for salvation, the execution of which he has entrusted to his Son, and has proposed it to man to be accepted as the only arrangement by which man can be saved, and which he is not at liberty to disregard.
There has been much difference of opinion in reference to the meaning of the passage here, and to the design of the illustration introduced. If the word used - διαθήκη diathēkē - means "testament," in the sense of a "will," then the sense of that passage is that "a will is of force only when he who made it dies, for it relates to a disposition of his property after his death." The force of the remark of the apostle then would be, that the fact that the Lord Jesus made or expressed his "will" to mankind, implied that he would die to confirm it; or that since in the ordinary mode of making a will, it was of force only when he who made it was dead, therefore it was necessary that the Redeemer should die, in order to confirm and ratify what he made. But the objections to this, which appears to have been the view of our translators, seem to me to be insuperable. They are these:
(1) the word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - is not used in this sense in the New Testament elsewhere; see the remarks above.
(2) the Lord Jesus made no such will. He had no property, and the commandments and instructions which he gave to his disciples were not of the nature of a will or testament.
For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.
For a testament - Such an arrangement as God enters into with man; see the remarks on Hebrews 9:16.
Is of force - Is ratified, or confirmed - in the same way as a deed or compact is confirmed by affixing a seal.
After men are dead - ἐπὶ νεκροῖς epi nekrois. "Over the dead." That is, in accordance with the view given above, after the animal is dead; or over the body of the animal slain for sacrifice, and to confirm the covenant. "For a covenant is completed or confirmed over dead sacrifices, seeing it is never of force as long as the victim set apart for its ratification is still living." ms. notes of Dr. JohnP. Wilson. To this interpretation it is objected, that "νεκροῖς nekrois - "nekrois" - means only "dead men;" but human beings surely were not sacrificed by the Jews, as a mediating sacrifice in order to confirm a covenant." Prof. Stuart in loc. In regard to this objection, and to the proper meaning of the passage, we may remark:
(1) that the word "men" is not in the Greek, nor is it necessarily implied, unless it be in the use of the Greek word rendered "dead." The proper translation is, "upon, or over the dead." The use of the word "men" here by our translators would seem to limit it to the making of a will.
(2) it is to be presumed, unless there is positive proof to the contrary, that the Greeks and Hebrews used the word "dead" as it is used by other people, and that it "might" refer to deceased animals, or vegetables, as well as to human beings. A sacrifice that had been offered was dead; a tree that had fallen was dead; an animal that had been torn by other wild animals was dead. It is "possible" that a people might have one word to refer to "dead men," and another to "dead animals," and another to "dead vegetables:" but what is the evidence that the Hebrews or the Greeks had such words?
(3) what is the meaning of this very word - νεκρός nekros - "nekros" - in Hebrews 6:1; Hebrews 9:14, of this very Epistle when it is applied to works - "dead works" - if it never refers to anything but people? compare James 2:17, James 2:20, James 2:26; Ephesians 2:1, Ephesians 2:5; Revelation 3:1. In Ecclesiastes 9:4, it is applied to a dead lion. I suppose, therefore, that the Greek phrase here will admit of the interpretation which the "exigency of the place" seems to demand, and that the idea is, that a covenant with God was ratified over the animals slain in sacrifice, and was not considered as confirmed until the sacrifice was killed.
Otherwise - Since - ἐπεί epei. That is, unless this takes place it will be of no force.
It is of no strength - It is not "strong" - ἰσχύει ischuei - it is not confirmed or ratified. "While the testator liveth." Or while the animal selected to confirm the covenant is alive. It can be confirmed only by its being slain. A full examination of the meaning of this passage Hebrews 9:16-17 may be found in an article in the Biblical Repository, vol. 20, pp. 51-71, and in Prof. Stuart's reply to that article. Bib. Repos. 20, pp. 356-381.
Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood.
Whereupon - Ὅθεν Hothen - "Whence." Or since this is a settled principle, or an indisputable fact, it occurred in accordance with this, that the first covenant was confirmed by the shedding of blood. The admitted principle which the apostle had stated, that the death of the victim was necessary to confirm the covenant, was the "reason" why the first covenant was ratified with blood. If there were any doubt about the correctness of the interpretation given above, that Hebrews 9:16-17, refer to a "covenant," and not a "will," this verse would seem to be enough to remove it. For how could the fact that a will is not binding until he who makes it is dead, be a reason why a "covenant" should be confirmed by blood? What bearing would such a fact have on the question whether it ought or ought not to be confirmed in this manner? Or how could that fact, though it is universal, be given as a "reason" to account for the fact that the covenant made by the instrumentality of Moses was ratified with blood?
No possible connection can be seen in such reasoning. But admit that Paul had stated in Hebrews 9:16-17, a general principle that in all covenant transactions with God, the death of a victim was necessary, and everything is plain. We then see why he offered the sacrifice and sprinkled the blood. It was not on the basis of such reasoning as this: "The death of a man who makes a will is indispensable before the will is of binding force, therefore it was that Moses confirmed the covenant made with our fathers by the blood of a sacrifice;" but by such reasoning as this: "It is a great principle that in order to ratify a covenant between God and his people a victim should be slain, therefore it was that Moses ratified the old covenant in this manner, and "therefore" it was also that the death of a victim was necessary under the new dispensation." Here the reasoning of Paul is clear and explicit; but who could see the force of the former?
Prof. Stuart indeed connects this verse with Hebrews 9:15, and says that the course of thought is, "The new covenant or redemption from sin was sanctioned by the death of Jesus; consequently, or wherefore (ὅθεν hothen) the old covenant, which is a type of the new, was sanctioned by the blood of victims." But is this the reasoning of Paul? Does he say that because the blood of a Mediator was to be shed under the new dispensation, and because the old was a type of this, that therefore the old was confirmed by blood? Is he not rather accounting for the shedding of blood at all, and showing that it was "necessary" that the blood of the Mediator should be shed rather than assuming that, and from that arguing that a typical shedding of blood was needful? Besides, on this supposition, why is the statement in Hebrews 9:16-17, introduced? What bearing have these verses in the train of thought? What are they but an inexplicable obstruction?
The first testament - Or rather covenant - the word "testament" being supplied by the translators.
Was dedicated - Margin, "Purified." The word used to "ratify," to "confirm," to "consecrate," to "sanction." Literally, "to renew."
Without blood - It was ratified by the blood of the animals that were slain in sacrifice. The blood was then sprinkled on the principal objects that were regarded as holy under that dispensation.
For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people,
For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people - When he had recited all the Law, and had given all the commandments entrusted him to deliver; Exodus 24:3.
He took the blood of calves and of goats - This passage has given great perplexity to commentators from the fact that Moses in his account of the transactions connected with the ratification of the covenant with the people, Exodus 24, mentions only a part of the circumstances here referred to. He says nothing of the blood of calves and of goats; nothing of water, and scarletwool, and hyssop; nothing of sprinkling the book, the tabernacle, or the vessels of the ministry. It has been made a question, therefore, whence Paul obtained a knowledge of these circumstances? Since the account is not contained in the Old Testament, it must have been either by tradition, or by direct inspiration. The latter supposition is hardly probable, because:
(1) the information here can hardly be regarded as of sufficient importance to have required an original revelation; for the illustration would have had sufficient force to sustain his conclusion if the literal account in Exodus only had been given, that Moses sprinkled the people, but
(2) such an original act of inspiration here would not have been consistent with the object of the apostle. In that argument it was essential that he should state only the facts about the ancient dispensation which were admitted by the Hebrews themselves. Any statement of his own about things which they did not concede to be true, or which was not well understood as a custom, might have been called in question, and would have done much to invalidate the entire force of the argument. It is to be presumed, therefore, that the facts here referred to had been preserved by tradition; and in regard to this, and the authority due to such a tradition, we may remark:
(1) that it is well known that the Jews had a great number of traditions which they carefully preserved;
(2) that there is no improbability in the supposition that many events in their history would be preserved in this manner, since in the small compass of a volume like the Old Testament it cannot be presumed that all the events of their nation had been recorded;
(3) though they had many traditions of a trifling nature, and many which were false (compare notes on Matthew 15:2), yet they doubtless had many that were true;
(4) in referring to those traditions, there is no impropriety in supposing that Paul may have been guided by the Spirit of inspiration in selecting only those which were true; and,
(5) nothing is more probable than what is here stated. If Moses sprinkled "the people;" if he read "the book of the law" then Exodus 24:7, and if this was regarded as a solemn act of ratifying a covenant with God, nothing would be more natural than that he should sprinkle the book of the covenant, and even the tabernacle and its various sacred utensils.
We are to remember also, that it was common among the Hebrews to sprinkle blood for the purpose of consecrating, or as an emblem of purifying. Thus, Aaron and his sons and their garments were sprinkled with blood when they were consecrated to the office of priests, Exodus 29:19-21; the blood of sacrifices was sprinkled on the altar, Leviticus 1:5, Leviticus 1:11; Leviticus 3:2, Leviticus 3:13; and blood was sprinkled before the veil of the sanctuary, Leviticus 4:10, Leviticus 4:17; compare Leviticus 6:27; Leviticus 7:14. So Josephus speaks of the garments of Aaron and of his sons being sprinkled with "the blood of the slain beasts, and with spring water." "Having consecrated them and their garments," he says, "for seven days together, he did the same to the tabernacle, and the vessels thereto belonging, both with oil and with the blood of bulls and of rams." Ant. book iii, chapter 8, section 6. These circumstances show the strong "probability" of the truth of what is here affirmed by Paul, while it is impossible to prove that Moses did not sprinkle the book and the tabernacle in the manner stated. The mere omission by Moses cannot demonstrate that it was not done. On the phrase "the blood of calves and of goats," see note on Hebrews 9:12.
With water - Agreeably to the declaration of Josephus that "spring water was used." In Leviticus 14:49-51, it is expressly mentioned that the blood of the bird that was killed to cleanse a house from the plague of leprosy should be shed over running water, and that the blood and the water should be sprinkled on the walls. It has been suggested also (see Bloomfield), that the use of water was necessary in order to prevent the blood from coagulating, or so as to make it possible to sprinkle it.
And scarlet wool - Margin, "Purple." The word used here denotes crimson, or deep-scarlet. The colour was obtained from a small insect which was found adhering to the shoots of a species of oak in Spain and in Western Asia, of about the size of a pea. It was regarded as the most valuable of the colours for dyeing, and was very expensive. Why the wool used by Moses was of this colour is not known, unless it be because it was the most expensive of colours, and thus accorded with everything employed in the construction of the tabernacle and its utensils. Wool appears to have been used in order to absorb and retain the blood.
And hyssop - That is, a bunch of hyssop intermingled with the wool, or so connected with it as to constitute a convenient instrument for sprinkling; compare Leviticus 14:51. Hyssop is a low shrub, regarded as one of the smallest of the plants, and hence, put in contrast with the cedar of Lebanon. It sprung out of the rocks or walls, 1 Kings 4:33, and was used for purposes of purification. The term seems to have comprised not only the common hyssop, but also lavender and other aromatic plants. Its fragrance, as well as its size, may have suggested the idea of using it in the sacred services of the tabernacle.
And sprinkled both the book - This circumstance is not mentioned by Moses, but it has been shown above not to be improbable. Some expositors, however, in order to avoid the difficulty in the passage, have taken this in connection with the word λαβὼν labōn - rendered "he took" - meaning "taking the blood, and the book itself;" but the more natural and proper construction is, that the book was sprinkled with the blood.
Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you.
Saying, This is the blood of the testament - Of the covenant; see notes on Hebrews 9:16-17. That is, this is the blood by which the covenant is ratified. It was the means used to confirm it; the sacred and solemn form by which it was made sure. When this was done, the covenant between God and the people was confirmed - as a covenant between man and man is when it is sealed.
Which God hath enjoined unto you - In Exodus 24:8, "which God hath made with you." The language used by Paul, "which God hath enjoined" - ἐνετείλατο eneteilato - "commanded" - shows that he did not regard this as strictly of the nature of a "covenant," or "compact." When a compact is made between parties, one does not "enjoin" or "command" the other, but it is a mutual "agreement." In the transactions between God and man, though called בּרית beriyt, or διαθήκη diathēkē, the idea of a "covenant" or "compact" is so far excluded that God never loses his right to "command" or "enjoin." It is not a transaction between equals, or an "agreement;" it is a solemn "arrangement" on the part of God which he proposes to mankind, and which he enjoins them to embrace; which they are not indeed at liberty to disregard, but which when embraced is appropriately ratified by some solemn act on their part; compare notes on Hebrews 8:6.
Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry.
He sprinkled ...both the tabernacle - This circumstance is not stated by Moses. On the probability that this was done, see notes on Hebrews 9:19. The account of setting up the tabernacle occurs in Exodus 11:1-10. In that account it is said that Moses "anointed" the tabernacle with the holy anointing oil; Hebrews 9:9-11. Josephus (Ant. book iii, chapter 8, section 6), says that he consecrated it and the vessels thereto belonging with the blood of bulls and of rams. This was undoubtedly the tradition in the time of Paul, and no one can prove that it is not correct.
And all the vessels of the ministry - Employed in the service of God. The altar, the laver, Exodus 40:10-11, the censers, dishes, bowls, etc., which were used in the tabernacle.
And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.
And almost all things - It is a general custom to purify everything by blood. This rule was not universal, for some things were purified by fire and water, Numbers 31:22-23, and some by water only; Numbers 31:24; Leviticus 16:26, Leviticus 16:28. But the exceptions to the general rule were few. Almost everything in the tabernacle and temple service, was consecrated or purified by blood.
And without shedding of blood is no remission - Remission or forgiveness of sins. That is, though some things were purified by fire and water, yet when the matter pertained to the forgiveness of sins, it was "universally" true that no sins were pardoned except by the shedding of blood. Some impurities might be removed by water and fire, but the stain of "sin" could be removed only by blood. This declaration referred in its primary meaning, to the Jewish rites, and the sense is, that under that dispensation it was universally true that in order to the forgiveness of sin blood must be shed. But it contains a truth of higher order and importance still. "It is universally true that sin never has been, and never will be forgiven, except in connection with, and in virtue of the shedding of blood." It is on this principle that the plan of salvation by the atonement is based, and on this that God in fact bestows pardon upon people. There is not the slightest evidence that any man has ever been pardoned except through the blood shed for the remission of sins. The infidel who rejects the atonement has no evidence that his sins are pardoned; the man who lives in the neglect of the gospel, though he has abundant evidence that he is a sinner, furnishes none that his sins are forgiven; and the Mussulman and the pagan can point to no proof that their sins are blotted out. It remains to be demonstrated that one single member of the human family has ever had the slightest evidence of pardoned sin, except through the blood of expiation. In the divine arrangement there is no principle better established than this, that all sin which is forgiven is remitted through the blood of the atonement; a principle which has never been departed from hitherto, and which never will be. It follows, therefore:
(1) that no sinner can hope for forgiveness except through the blood of Christ;
(2) that if people are ever saved they must be willing to rely on the merits of that blood;
(3) that all people are on a level in regard to salvation, since all are to be saved in the same way; and,
(4) that there will be one and the same song in heaven - the song of redeeming love.
It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.
The patterns of things in the heavens - The tabernacle and its various utensils; see the notes on Hebrews 8:5.
Be purified with these - With water and blood, and by these ceremonies.
But the heavenly things themselves - The heavenly tabernacle or sanctuary into which Christ has entered, and where he performs the functions of his ministry. The use of the word "purified" here applied to heaven, does not imply that heaven was before "unholy," but it denotes that it is now made accessible to sinners; or that they may come and worship there in an acceptable manner. The ancient tabernacle was purified or consecrated by the blood of the victims slain, so that people might approach with acceptance and worship; the heavens by purer blood are rendered accessible to the guilty. The necessity for "better sacrifices" in regard to the latter was, that it was designed to make the conscience pure, and because the service in heaven is more holy than any rendered on earth.
With better sacrifices than these - To wit, the sacrifice made by the offering of the Lord Jesus on the cross. This infinitely surpassed in value all that had been offered under the Jewish dispensation.
For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:
For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands - Into the temple or tabernacle. The Jewish high priest alone entered into the most holy place; and the other priests into the holy place. Jesus, being of the tribe of Judah, and not of Levi, never entered the temple proper. He had access only to the courts of the temple, in the same way as any other Jew had; see the notes on Matthew 21:12. He has entered into the true temple - heaven - of which the earthly tabernacle was the type.
Which are the figures of the true - Literally, "the antitypes" - ἀντίτυπα antitupa. The word properly means what is formed after a model, pattern, or type; and then what corresponds to something or answers to it. The idea here is, that the "type" or "fashion" - the "true" figure or form - was shown to Moses in the Mount, and then the tabernacle was made after that model, or corresponded to it. The "true original" figure is heaven itself; the tabernacle was an antitype of that - or was so formed as in some sense to correspond to it. That is, it corresponded in regard to the matters under consideration - the most holy place denoted heaven; the mercy-seat and the shekinah were symbols of the presence of God, and of the fact that he shows mercy in heaven; the entrance of the high priest was emblematical of the entrance of the Redeemer into heaven; the sprinkling of the blood there was a type of what the Redeemer would do in heaven.
Now to appear in the presence of God for us - As the Jewish high priest appeared before the shekinah, the symbol of the divine presence in the tabernacle, so Christ appears before God himself in our behalf in heaven. He has gone to plead for our salvation; to present the merits of his blood as a permanent reason why we should be saved; Romans 8:34 note; Hebrews 7:25 note.
Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others;
Nor yet that he should offer himself often - The Jewish high priest entered the most holy place with blood once every year. In this respect the offering made by Christ, and the work which he performed, differed from that of the Jewish high priest. It was not needful that he should enter the holy place but once. Having entered there, he permanently remains there.
With the blood of others - That is, with the blood of calves, and goats. This is a second point in which the work of Christ differs from that of the Jewish high priest. Christ entered there with his own blood; notes on Hebrews 9:12.
For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
For then must he often have suffered - That is, if his blood had no more efficacy than what the Jewish high priest offered, and which was so often repeated, it would have been necessary that Christ should have often died.
But now once - Once for all; once in the sense that it is not to be repeated again - ἅπαξ hapax.
In the end of the world - In the last dispensation or economy; that under which the affairs of the world will be wound up; see the phrase fully explained in Hebrews 1:2 note, and Acts 2:17 note; 1 Corinthians 10:11, and Isaiah 2:2.
Hath he appeared - He has been manifested in human form.
To put away sin -
(1) To remove the punishment due to sin, or to provide a way of pardon; and,
(2) to remove the stain of sin from the soul; see the notes on Hebrews 9:14.
And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
And as it is appointed unto men once to die - Or, "since it is appointed unto men to die once only." The object of this is to illustrate the fact that Christ died but once for sin, and that is done by showing that the most important events pertaining to man occur but once. Thus, it is with "death." That does not, and cannot occur many times. It is the great law of our being that people die only once, and hence, the same thing was to be expected to occur in regard to him who made the atonement. It could not be supposed that this great law pertaining to man would be departed from in the case of him who died to make the atonement, and that he would repeatedly undergo the pains of death. The same thing was true in regard to the "judgment." Man is to he judged once, and but once. The decision is to be final, and is not to be repeated. In like manner there was a fitness that the great Redeemer should die "but once," and that his death should, without being repeated, determine the destiny of man. There was a remarkable "oneness" in the great events which most affected people; and neither death, the judgment, nor the atonement could be repeated. In regard to the declaration here that "it is appointed unto men once to die," we may observe:
(1) that death is the result of "appointment;" Genesis 3:19. It is not the effect of chance, or haphazard. It is not a "debt of nature." It is not the condition to which man was subject by the laws of his creation. It is not to be accounted for by the mere principles of physiology. God could as well have made the heart to play forever as for 50 years. Death is no more the regular result of physical laws than the guillotine and the gallows are. It is in all cases the result of "intelligent appointment," and for "an adequate cause."
(2) that cause, or the reason of that appointment, is sin; notes, Romans 6:23. This is the adequate cause; this explains the whole of it. Holy beings do not die. There is not the slightest proof that an angel in heaven has died, or that any perfectly holy being has ever died except the Lord Jesus. In every death, then, we have a demonstration that the race is guilty; in each case of mortality we have an affecting memento that we are individually transgressors.
(3) death occurs but "once" in this world. It cannot be repeated if we should desire to have it repeated. Whatever truths or facts then pertain to death; whatever lessons it is calculated to convey, pertain to it as an event which is not to occur again. That which is to occur but once in an eternity of existence acquires, from that very fact, if there were no other circumstances, an immense importance. What is to be done but, "once," we should wish to be done well. We should make all proper preparation for it; we should regard it with singular interest. If preparation is to be made for it, we should make all which we expect "ever" to make. A man who is to cross the ocean but "once;" to go away from his home never to return, should make the right kind of preparation. He cannot come back to take what he has forgotten; to arrange what he has neglected; to give counsel which he has failed to do; to ask forgiveness for offences for which he has neglected to seek pardon. And so of death. A man who dies, dies but once. He cannot come back again to make preparation if he has neglected it; to repair the evils which he has caused by a wicked life; or to implore pardon for sins for which he had failed to ask forgiveness. Whatever is "to be done" with reference to death, is to be done "once for all" before he dies.
(4) death occurs to all. "It is appointed unto men" - to the race. It is not an appointment for one, but for all. No one is appointed by name to die; and not an individual is designated as one who shall escape. No exception is made in favour of youth, beauty, or blood; no rank or station is exempt; no merit, no virtue, no patriotism, no talent, can purchase freedom from it. In every other sentence which goes out against people there may be "some" hope of reprieve. Here there is none. We cannot meet an individual who is not "under sentence of death." It is not only the poor wretch in the dungeon doomed to the gallows who is to die, it is the rich man in his palace; the frivolous trifler in the assembly room; the friend that we embrace and love; and she whom we meet in the crowded saloon of fashion with all the graces of accomplishment and adorning. Each one of these is just as much under sentence of death as the poor wretch in the cell, and the execution on any one of them may occur before his. It is too for substantially the same cause, and is as really deserved. It is for "sin" that all are doomed to death, and the "fact" that we must die should be a constant remembrancer of our guilt.
(5) as death is to occur to us but once, there is a cheering interest in the reflection that when it is passed it is passed "forever." The dying pang, the chill, the cold sweat, are not to be repeated. Death is not to approach us often - he is to be allowed to come to us but once. When we have once passed through the dark valley, we shall have the assurance that we shall never tread its gloomy way again. Once, then, let us be willing to die - since we can die "but" once; and let us rejoice in the assurance which the gospel furnishes, that they who die in the Lord leave the world to go where death in any form is unknown.
But after this the judgment - The apostle does not say "how long" after death this will be, nor is it possible for us to know; Acts 1:7; compare Matthew 24:36. We may suppose, however. that there will be two periods in which there will be an act of judgment passed on those who die.
(1) immediately after death when they pass into the eternal world, when their destiny will be made known to them. This seems to be necessarily implied in the supposition that they will continue to live, and to be happy or miserable after death. This act of judgment may not be formal or public, but it will be such as to show them what must be the issues of the final day, and as the result of that interview with God, they will be made happy or miserable until the final doom shall be pronounced.
(2) the more public and formal act of judgment, when the whole world will be assembled at the bar of Christ; Matthew 25. The decision of that day will not change or reverse the former; but the trial will be of such a nature as to bring out all the deeds done on earth, and the sentence which will be pronounced will be in view of the universe, and will fix the everlasting doom. Then the body will have been raised; the affairs of the world will be wound up; the elect will all be gathered in, and the state of retribution will commence, to continue forever. The main thought of the apostle here may be, that after death will commence a state of "retribution" which can never change. Hence, there was a propriety that Christ should die but once. In that future world he would not die to make atonement, for there all will be fixed and final. If people, therefore, neglect to avail themselves of the benefits of the atonement here, the opportunity will be lost forever. In that changeless state which constitutes the eternal judgment no sacrifice will be again offered for sin; there will be no opportunity to embrace that Saviour who was rejected here on earth.
So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
So Christ was once offered - Since people are to die but once; and as all beyond the grave is fixed by the judgment, so that his death there would make no change in the destiny, there was a propriety that he should die but once for sin. The argument is, there is one probation only, and therefore there was need of but one sacrifice, or of his dying but once. If death were to occur frequently in the existence of each individual, and if each intermediate period were a state of probation, then there might be a propriety that an atonement should be made with reference to each state. Or if beyond the grave there were a state of probation still, then also there might be propriety that an atoning sacrifice should be offered there. But since neither of these things is true, there was a fitness that the great victim should die but once.
(Rather, perhaps, as in the original sentence, "once dying" was the penalty denounced on the sinner, so the substitute in enduring it, is in like manner, under necessity of dying but once. By this he fully answers the requirement of the Law. Or there may be in the passage a simple intimation that, in this respect, as in others. Christ is like us, namely, in being but once subject to death. It would be inconsistent with the nature which he sustains, to suppose him a second time subject to death.)
(1) that Christ was a "sinner" - for that was in no sense true. See Hebrews 7:26. Nor
(2) that he literally bore the penalty due to transgression - for that is equally untrue.
The penalty of the Law for sin is all which the Law when executed inflicts on the offender for his transgression, and includes, in "fact," remorse of conscience, overwhelming despair, and eternal punishment. But Christ did not suffer forever, nor did he experience remorse of conscience, nor did he endure utter despair. Nor.
(3) does it mean that he was literally "punished" for our sins. Punishment pertains only to the guilty. An innocent being may "suffer" for what another does, but there is no propriety in saying that he is "punished" for it. A father suffers much from the misconduct of a son, but we do not say that he is punished for it; a child suffers much from the intemperance of a parent - but no one would say that it was a punishment on the child. Men always connect the idea of criminality with punishment, and when we say that a man is punished, we suppose at once that there is "guilt." The phrase here means simply, that Christ endured sufferings in his own person, which, if they had been inflicted on us, would have been the proper punishment of sin. He who was innocent interposed, and received on himself what was descending to meet us, and consented to be treated "as he would have deserved if he had been a sinner." Thus, he bore what was due to us; and this, in Scripture phrase, is what is meant by "bearing our iniquities;" see the notes Isaiah 53:4.
(It is indeed true, that Christ did not endure the very penalty which we had incurred, and, but for his interference, should have endured. His sufferings must be regarded in the light of an equivalent to the Law's original claim, of a satisfaction to its injured honor, which the Lawgiver has been pleased to accept. It is, however, equally true, that the sufferings of Christ were strictly penal. They were the punishment of sin. The true meaning of the important phrase in this verse, "to bear sin," establishes this point. It can have no other meaning than bearing the punishment of sin. See Stuart's xix. Excursus. That punishment supposes guilt is not denied. What then? Not certainly that Christ was personally guilty, but that our guilt has been imputed to him - that he has taken the place of the guilty, and become answerable for their transgressions. See Supp. note, 2 Corinthians 5:21.)
And unto them that look for him - To his people. It is one of the characteristics of Christians that they look for the return of their Lord; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 3:12; compare the notes, 1 Thessalonians 1:10. They fully believe that he will come. They earnestly desire that he will come; 2 Timothy 4:8; Revelation 22:20. They are waiting for his appearing; 1 Thessalonians 1:10. He left the world and ascended to heaven, but he will again return to earth, and his people are looking for that time as the period when they shall be raised up from their graves; when they shall be publicly acknowledged to be his, and when they shall be admitted to heaven; see the notes on John 14:3.
Shall he appear the second time - He first appeared as the man of sorrows to make atonement for sin. His second appearance will be as the Lord of his people, and the Judge of the quick and the dead; Matthew 25:31, see the notes, Acts 1:11. The apostle does not say when this would be, nor is any intimation given in the Scriptures when it will occur. It is on the contrary everywhere declared that this is concealed from people Acts 1:7; Matthew 24:36, and all that is known respecting the time is, that it will be suddenly and at an unexpected moment; Matthew 24:42, Matthew 24:44, Matthew 24:50.
Without sin - That is, when be comes again he will not make himself a sin-offering; or will not come in order to make atonement for sin. It is not implied that when he came the first time he was in any sense a sinner, but that he came then with reference to sin. or that the main object of his incarnation was to "put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." When he comes the second time, it will be with reference to another object.
Unto salvation - That is, to receive his friends and followers to eternal salvation. He will come to save them from all their sins and temptations; to raise them from their graves; to place them at his right hand in glory, and to confirm them in the everlasting inheritance which he has promised to all who truly love him, and who wait for his appearing.
In view of this anticipated return of the Redeemer, we may remark:
(1) There is a propriety that the Lord Jesus should thus return. He came once to be humbled, despised, and put to death; and there is a fitness that he should come to be honored in his own world.