Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 12. An exhortation to faithful endurance (1–3) and a reminder that our earthly sufferings are due to the fatherly chastisement of God (4–13). The need of earnest watchfulness (14–17). Magnificent concluding appeal founded on the superiority and grandeur of the New Covenant (18–24), which enhances the guilt and peril of apostasy (25–29).
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,1–3. An exhortation to patient steadfastness
1. Wherefore] The Greek word is a very strong particle of inference not found elsewhere in the N. T. except in 1 Thessalonians 4:8.
seeing we also are compassed] The order of the Greek is “Let us also, seeing we are compassed with so great a cloud of witnesses … run with patience.”
a cloud] A classical Greek and Latin, as well as Hebrew, metaphor for a great multitude. Thus Homer speaks of “a cloud of foot-soldiers.” We have the same metaphor in Isaiah 60:8, “who are these who fly as clouds” (Heb.). Here, as St Clemens of Alexandria says, the cloud is imagined to be “holy and translucent.”
of witnesses] The word has not yet fully acquired its sense of “martyrs.” It here probably means “witnesses to the sincerity and the reward of faith.” The notion that they are also witnesses of our Christian race lies rather in the word περικείμενον, “surrounding us on all sides,” like the witnesses in a circus or a theatre (1 Corinthians 4:9).
let us lay aside every weight] Lit., “stripping off at once cumbrance of every kind.” The word “weight” was used, technically, in the language of athletes, to mean “superfluous flesh,” to be reduced by training. The training requisite to make the body supple and sinewy was severe and long-continued. Metaphorically the word comes to mean “pride,” “inflation.”
and the sin which doth so easily beset us] The six words “which doth so easily beset us” represent one Greek word, euperistaton, of which the meaning is uncertain, because it occurs nowhere else. It means literally “well standing round,” or “well stood around.” (1) If taken in the latter sense it is interpreted to mean (α) “thronged,” “eagerly encircled,” and so “much admired” or “much applauded,” and will thus put us on our guard against sins which are popular; or (β) “easily avoidable,” with reference to the verb peri-istaso, “avoid” (2 Timothy 2:16; Titus 3:9). The objections to these renderings are that the writer is thinking of private sins. More probably it is to be taken in the active sense, as in the A. V. and the R. V. of the sin which either (α) “presses closely about us to attack us;” or (β) which “closely clings (tenaciter inhaerens, Erasmus) to us” like an enfolding robe (statos chiton). The latter is almost certainly the true meaning, and is suggested by the participle apothemenoi, “stripping off” (comp. Ephesians 4:22). As an athlete lays aside every heavy or dragging article of dress, so we must strip away from us and throw aside the clinging robe of familiar sin. The metaphor is the same as that of the word apekdusasthai (Colossians 3:9), which is the parallel to apothesthai in Ephesians 4:22. The gay garment of sin may at first be lightly put on and lightly laid aside, but it afterwards becomes like the fabled shirt of Nessus eating into the bones as it were fire.
with patience] Endurance (hupomonç) characterised the faith of all these heroes and patriarchs, and he exhorts us to endure because Christ also endured the cross (hupomeinas).
the race that is set before us] One of the favourite metaphors of St Paul (Php 3:12-14; 1 Corinthians 9:24-25; 2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.2. looking unto Jesus] It is not possible to express in English the thought suggested by the Greek verb aphorôntes, which implies that we must “look away (from other things) unto Jesus.” It implies “the concentration of the wandering gaze into a single direction.”
the author] The word is the same (ἀρχηγὸν) as that used in Hebrews 2:10. In Acts 3:15; Acts 5:31 it is rendered “a Prince,” as in Isaiah 30:4 (LXX.). By His faithfulness (Hebrews 3:2) he became our captain and standard-bearer on the path of faith.
and finisher] He leads us to “the end of our faith,” which is the salvation of our souls (1 Peter 1:9).
of our faith] Rather, “of faith.”
endured the cross, despising the shame] Lit., “endured a cross, despising shame.”
is set down] Rather, “hath sat down” (Hebrews 1:3, Hebrews 8:1, Hebrews 10:12).
For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.3. consider] Lit., “compare yourselves with.” Contrast the comparative immunity from anguish of your lot with the agony of His (John 15:20).
that endured …] Who hath endured at the hand of sinners such opposition.
such contradiction of sinners against himself] The Greek word for “contradiction” has already occurred in Hebrews 6:16, Hebrews 7:7. Three uncials (א, D, E) read “against themselves.” Christ was a mark for incessant “contradiction,”—“a sign which is spoken against” (Luke 2:34).
lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds] The correction of the R. V., “that ye wax not weary, fainting in your souls,” will be reckoned by careless and prejudiced readers among the changes which they regard as meaningless. Yet, as in hundreds of other instances, it brings out much more fully and forcibly the exact meaning of the original. “That ye wax not weary” is substituted for “lest ye be weary” because the Greek verb, being in the aorist, suggests a sudden or momentary break-down in endurance; on the other hand, “fainting” is in the present, and suggests the gradual relaxation of nerve and energy which culminates in the sudden relapse. Lastly the word in the original is “souls,” not “minds.” Endurance was one of the most needful Christian virtues in times of waiting and of trial (Galatians 6:9).
Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.4–13. Fatherly chastisements should be cheerfully endured
4. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood] If this be a metaphor drawn from pugilism, as the last is from “running a race,” it means that as yet they have not “had blood drawn.” This would not be impossible, for St Paul adopts pugilistic metaphors (1 Corinthians 9:26-27). More probably however the meaning is that, severe as had been the persecutions which they had undergone (Hebrews 10:32-33), they had not yet—and perhaps a shade of reproach is involved in the expression—resisted up to the point of martyrdom (Revelation 12:11). The Church addressed can scarcely therefore have been either the Church of Rome, which had before this time furnished “a great multitude” of martyrs (Tac. Ann. xv. 44; Revelation 7:9), or the Church of Jerusalem, in which, beside the martyrdoms of St Stephen, St James the elder, and St James the Lord’s brother, some had certainly been put to death in the persecution of Saul (Acts 8:1).
striving against sin] “in your struggles against sin.” Some from this expression give a more general meaning to the clause—“You have not yet put forth your utmost efforts in your moral warfare.”
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:5. And ye have forgotten] “Yet ye have utterly forgotten,” or possibly the words may be intended interrogatively “Yet have ye utterly forgotten?”
the exhortation] “the encouragement,” or “strengthening consolation.”
speaketh] “discourseth,” or “reasoneth” (dialegetai).
My son …] The quotation is from Proverbs 3:11-12, and is taken mainly from the LXX. There is a very similar passage in Job 5:17, and Philo, de Congr. quaerend. erudit. gr. (Opp. i. 544).
despise not] “Regard not lightly.”
the chastening] Rather, “the training.”
nor faint …] In the Hebrew it is “and loathe not His correction.”
rebuked] Rather, “tested,” “corrected.”
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.6. for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth] This blessedness of being “trained by God” (“Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law,” Psalm 94:12) is found in many parts of Scripture. “As many as I love, I test (ἐλέγχω) and train” (paideuo), Revelation 3:19; Psalm 119:75; James 1:12.
and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth] The writer follows the reading of the LXX., by a slight change in the vowel-points, for “even as a father to a son He is good to him.”
If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?7. If ye endure chastening] The true reading is not ei, “if,” but eis, “unto.” “It is for training that ye endure,” or better, “Endure ye, for training,” i.e. “regard your trials as a part of the moral training designed for you by your Father in Heaven.”
what son is he whom the father chasteneth not] The thought, and its application to our relationship towards God are also found in Deuteronomy 8:5; 2 Samuel 7:14; Proverbs 13:24.
But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.8. whereof all are partakers] He speaks of God’s blessed and disciplinary chastisement as a gift in which all His sons have their share.
Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?9. unto the Father of spirits] God might be called “the Father of the spirits,” as having created Angels and Spirits; but more probably the meaning is “the Father of our spirits,” as in Numbers 16:22, “the God of the spirits of all flesh.” God made our bodies and our souls, but our spirits are in a yet closer relation to Him (Job 12:10; Job 32:8; Job 33:4; Ecclesiastes 12:7; Zechariah 12:1; Isaiah 42:5, &c.). If it meant “the Author of spiritual gifts,” the expression would be far-fetched and would be no contrast to “the father of our flesh.” Here and in Hebrews 7:10 theologians have introduced the purely verbal, meaningless, and insoluble dispute about Creationism and Traducianism—i.e. as to whether God separately creates the soul of each one of us, or whether we derive it through our parents by hereditary descent from Adam.
For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.10. after their own pleasure] Rather, “as seemed good to them.” He is contrasting the brief authority of parents, and their liability to error, and even to caprice, with the pure love and eternal justice of God.
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.11. the peaceable fruit of righteousness] The original is expressed in the emphatic and oratorical style of the writer, “but afterwards it yieldeth a peaceful fruit to those who have been exercised by it—(the fruit) of righteousness.” He means that though the sterner aspect of training is never pleasurable for the time it results in righteousness—in moral hardihood and serene self-mastery—to all who have been trained in these gymnasia (γεγυμνασμένοις). See Romans 5:2-5.
Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;12. Wherefore] The poetic style, and even the metrical form of diction in these two verses (of which Hebrews 12:13 contains a complete hexameter,
καὶ τροχιὰς ὀρθὰς ποιήσατε τοῖς ποσὶν ὑμῶν
and half an iambic,
ἵνα μὴ τὸ χωλὸν ἐκτραπῇ),
reflect the earnestness of the writer, as he gives more and more elaboration to his sentences in approaching the climax of his appeal. It is most unlikely that they are quotations from Hellenistic poets, for the first agrees closely with Proverbs 4:26 (LXX.). On these accidentally metrical expressions see my Early Days of Christianity, i. 464, ii. 14.
lift up the hands …] Lit. “straighten out the relaxed hands and the palsied knees.” Make one effort to invigorate the flaccid muscles which should be so tense in the struggle in which you are engaged. The writer is thinking of Isaiah 35:3; Ecclus. 25:28, and perhaps of the metaphors of the race and the fight which he has just used.
And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.13. lest that which is lame be turned out of the way] Lit. “that the lame (i.e. lameness) may not be quite out of joint, but may rather be cured.” The verb ἐκτραπῇ may mean “be turned out of the way,” as in 1 Timothy 1:6; 1 Timothy 5:15; 2 Timothy 4:4; but as it is a technical term for “spraining,” or “dislocation,” it may have that meaning here, especially as he has used two medical terms in the previous verse, and has the metaphor of “healing” in his thoughts. The writer may have met with these terms in ordinary life, or in his intercourse with St Luke, with whose language he shews himself familiar throughout the Epistle. Intercourse with the beloved physician is perhaps traceable in some of the medical terms of St Paul’s later Epistles (see Dean Plumptre’s papers on this subject in the Expositor, iv. 134 (first series)).
let it rather be healed] Isaiah 57:17-19.
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:14–17. Need of earnest watchfulness
14. Follow peace with all men] The word “men” is better omitted, for doubtless the writer is thinking mainly of peace in the bosom of the little Christian community—a peace which, even in these early days, was often disturbed by rival egotisms (Romans 14:19; 2 Timothy 2:22).
and holiness] Rather, “and the sanctification” (Hebrews 9:13, Hebrews 10:10; Hebrews 10:29, Hebrews 13:12).
without which] We have here in succession two iambics:
οὗ χωρὶς οὐδεὶς ὄψεται τὸν Κύριον
ἐπισκοποῦντες μή τις ὑστερῶν ἀπό.
Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;15. lest any man fail of the grace of God] Lit. “whether there be any man who is falling short of,” or possibly “falling back from the grace of God.” We have already noticed that not improbably the writer has in view some one individual instance of a tendency towards apostasy, which might have a fatal influence upon other weary or wavering brethren (comp. Hebrews 3:12).
lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you] The words “root of bitterness” are a reference to Deuteronomy 29:18, “a root that beareth gall and wormwood,” or, as in the margin, “a poisonful herb.” Here the LXX. in the Vatican MS. has ἐν χολῇ, “in gall,” for ἐνοχλῇ, “should trouble you.” But the Alexandrian ms., which the writer habitually follows in his quotations, has ἐνοχλῇ. Some have supposed that there is a curious allusion to this verse, and to the reading “in gall” in the apparent reference to this Epistle by the Muratorian canon as “the Epistle to the Alexandrians current under the name of Paul, but forged in the interests of Marcion’s heresy,” which adds that “gall ought not to be mixed with honey.” The allusion is, however, very doubtful.
many be defiled] Rather, “the many.” Comp. 1 Corinthians 5:6 (“a little leaven”); 1 Corinthians 15:33 (“evil communications”); Galatians 5:9.
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.16. any fornicator] The word must be taken in a literal sense, since Esau was not “an idolator.” It is true that Esau is not charged with fornication in the Book of Genesis (which only speaks of his heathen marriages, geb 26:34, Genesis 28:8), but the writer is probably alluding to the Jewish Hagadah, with which he was evidently familiar. There Esau is represented in the blackest colours, as a man utterly sensual, intemperate, and vile, which is also the view of Philo (see Siegfried Philo, p. 254).
or profane person] A man of coarse and unspiritual mind (Genesis 25:33). Philo explained the word “hairy” to mean that he was sensuous and lustful.
for one morsel of meat] “for one meal” (Genesis 25:29-34).
For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.17. For ye know how that afterward] The verse runs literally “for ye know that even, afterwards, when he wished to inherit the blessing, he was rejected—for he found no opportunity for a change of mind—though with tears he earnestly sought for it.” It is clear at once that if the writer means to say “that Esau earnestly sought to repent, but could not,” then he is contradicting the whole tenor of the Scriptures, and of the Gospel teaching with which he was so familiar. This would not indeed furnish us with any excuse for distorting the meaning of his language, if that meaning be unambiguous; and in favour of such a view of his words is the fact that he repeatedly dwells on the hopelessness—humanly speaking—of all wilful apostasy. On the other hand, “apostasy,” when it desires to repent, ceases to be apostasy, and the very meaning of the Gospel is that the door to repentance is never closed by God, though the sinner may close it against himself. Two modes of interpreting the text would save it from clashing with this precious truth. (1) One is to say (α) that “room for repentance” means “opportunity for changing his father’s or his brother’s purpose;” no subsequent remorse or regret could undo the past or alter Isaac’s blessing (Genesis 27:33); or (β) no room for changing his own mind in such a way as to recover the blessing which he had lost; in other words, he “found no opportunity for such repentance as would restore to him the lost theocratic blessing.” But in the N. T. usage the word “repentance” (μετάνοια) is always subjective, and has a deeper meaning than in the LXX. The same objection applies to the explanation that “he found no room to change God’s purpose” to induce God “to repent” of His rejection of him, since God “is not a man that He should repent” (Numbers 23:19). (2) It seems simpler therefore, and quite admissible, to regard “for he found no place for repentance” as a parenthesis, and refer “it” to the lost blessing. “Though he earnestly sought the lost blessing, even with tears, when (perhaps forty years after his shameful indifference) he wished once more to inherit it, yet then he found no room for repentance;” or in other words his repentance, bitter as it was, could not avert the earthly consequence of his profanity, and was unavailing to regain what he had once flung away. As far as his earthly life was concerned, he heard the awful words “too late.” The text gives no ground for pronouncing on Esau’s future fate, to which the writer makes no allusion whatever. His “repentance,” if it failed, could only have been a spurious repentance—remorse for earthly foolishness, not godly sorrow for sin, the dolor amissi, not the dolor aàmissi. This is the sense of “locus poenilentiae,” the Latin translation of τόπος μετανοίας. The phrase itself occurs in Wis 12:10. The abuse of this passage to support the merciless severity of the Novatians was one of the reasons why the Epistle was somewhat discredited in the Western Church.
with tears] “In former days he might have had it without tears; afterwards he was rejected, however sorely he wept. Let us use the time” (Luke 13:28). Bengel.
For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,18–29. The mercy and sublimity of the New Covenant as contrasted with the Old (18–24) enhance the guilt and peril of the backslider (25–29)
18. For ye are not come] At the close of his arguments and exhortations the writer condenses the results of his Epistle into a climax of magnificent eloquence and force, in which he shews the transcendent beauty and supremacy of the New Covenant as compared with the terrors and imperfections of the Old.
unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire] Unless we allow the textual evidence to be overruled by the other considerations, which are technically called “paradiplomatic evidence,” the verse should be rendered “For ye have not come near to a palpable and enkindled fire.” In any case the allusion is to Exodus 19:16-19; Deuteronomy 4:11, and generally to “the fiery law.”
blackness, and darkness, and tempest] Deuteronomy 4:11; Deuteronomy 5:22.
And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more:19. the sound of a trumpet] Exodus 19:16; Exodus 19:19; Exodus 20:18.
the voice of words] Deuteronomy 4:12.
intreated] The verb means literally “to beg off.”
that the word should not be spoken to them any more] Lit. “that no word more should be added to them” (Deuteronomy 5:22-27; Deuteronomy 18:16; Exodus 20:19).
(For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart:20. they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast …] Rather, “they endured not the injunction, If even a beast …” (Exodus 19:12-13). This injunction seemed to them to indicate an awful terror and sanctity in the environment of the mountain. It filled them with alarm. The Jewish Hagadah said that at the utterance of each commandment the Israelites recoiled twelve miles, and were only brought forward again by the ministering angels. St Paul, in different style, contrasts “the Mount Sinai which gendereth to bondage” with “the Jerusalem which is free and the mother of us all” (Galatians 4:24-26).
or thrust through with a dart] This clause is a gloss added from Exodus 19:13. Any man who touched the mountain was to be stoned, any beast to be transfixed (Exodus 19:13): but the quotation is here abbreviated, and the allusion is summary as in Hebrews 7:5; Acts 7:16.
And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)21. the sight] “the splendour of the spectacle” (τὸ φανταζόμενον, here only in N.T.). The true punctuation of the verse is And—so fearful was the spectacle—Moses said …
I exceedingly fear and quake] No such speech of Moses at Sinai is recorded in the Pentateuch. The writer is either drawing from the Jewish Hagadah or (by a mode of citation not uncommon) is compressing two incidents into one. For in Deuteronomy 9:19 Moses, after the apostasy of Israel in worshipping the Golden Calf, said, “I was afraid (LXX. καὶ ἔκφοβός εἰμι) of the anger and hot displeasure of the Lord,” and in Acts 7:32 we find the words “becoming a-tremble” (ἔντρομος γενόμενος) to express the fear of Moses on seeing the Burning Bush (though here also there is no mention of any trembling in Exodus 3:6). The tradition of Moses’ terror is found in Jewish writings. In Shabbath f. 88. 2 he explains “Lord of the Universe I am afraid lest they (the Angels) should consume me with the breath of their mouths.” Comp. Midrash Koheleth f. 69. 4.
But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,22. unto mount Sion …] The true Sion is the anti-type of all the promises with which the name had been connected (Psalm 2:6; Psalm 48:2; Psalm 78:68-69; Psalm 125:1; Joel 2:32; Micah 4:7). Hence the names of Sion and “the heavenly Jerusalem” are given to “the city of the living God” (Galatians 4:26; Revelation 21:2). Sinai and Mount Sion are contrasted with each other in six particulars. Bengel and others make out an elaborate sevenfold antithesis here.
to an innumerable company of angels …] This punctuation is suggested by the word “myriads,” which is often applied to angels (Deuteronomy 33:2; Psalm 68:17; Daniel 7:10). But under the New Covenant the Angels are surrounded with attributes, not of terror but of beauty and goodness (Hebrews 1:14; Revelation 5:11-12).
To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,23. to the general assembly] The word Pançguris means a general festive assembly, as in Song of Solomon 6:13 (LXX.). It has been questioned whether both clauses refer to Angels—“To myriads of Angels, a Festal Assembly, and Church of Firstborn enrolled in Heaven”—or whether two classes of the Blessed are intended, viz. “To myriads of Angels, (and) to a Festal Assembly and Church of Firstborn.” The absence of “and” before Pançguris makes this latter construction doubtful, and the first construction is untenable because the Angels are never called in the N.T. either “a Church” (but see Psalm 89:5) or “Firstborn.” On the whole the best and simplest way of taking the text seems to be “But ye have come … to Myriads—a Festal Assembly of Angels—and to the Church of the Firstborn … and to spirits of the Just who have been perfected.”
and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven] Rather, “who have been enrolled in heaven.” This refers to the Church of living Christians, to whom the Angels are “ministering spirits,” and whose names, though they are still living on earth, have been enrolled in the heavenly registers (Luke 10:20; Romans 8:16; Romans 8:29; James 1:18) as “a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” unto God and to the Lamb (Revelation 14:4). These, like Jacob, have inherited the privileges of firstborn which the Jews, like Esau, have rejected.
to God the Judge of all] Into whose hands, rather than into the hands of man, it is a blessing to fall, because He is “the righteous Judge” (2 Timothy 4:8).
and to the spirits of just men made perfect] That is, to saints now glorified and perfected—i.e. brought to the consummation of their course—in heaven (Revelation 7:14-17). This has been interpreted only of the glorified saints of the Old Covenant, but there is no reason to confine it to them. The writer tells the Hebrews that they have come not to a flaming hill, and a thunderous darkness, and a terror-stricken multitude, but to Mount Sion and the Heavenly Jerusalem, where they will be united with the Angels of joy and mercy (Luke 15:10), with the happy Church of living Saints, and with the spirits of the Just made perfect. The three clauses give us a beautiful conception of “the Communion of the Saints above and the Church below” with myriads of Angels united in a Festal throng, in a Heaven now ideally existent and soon to be actually realised.
And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.24. the mediator of the new covenant] Rather, “Mediator of a New Covenant.” The word for “new” is here νέας (“new in time”), not καινῆς (“fresh in quality”), implying not only that it is “fresh” or “recent,” but also young and strong (Matthew 26:27-29; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 10:22).
that speaketh better things than that of Abel] The allusion is explained by Hebrews 9:13, Hebrews 10:22, Hebrews 11:4, Hebrews 13:12. “The blood of Abel cried for vengeance; that of Christ for remission” (Erasmus). In the original Hebrew it is (Genesis 4:10) “The voice of thy brother’s bloods crieth from the ground,” and this was explained by the Rabbis of his blood “sprinkled on the trees and stones.” It was a curious Jewish Hagadah that the dispute between Cain and Abel rose from Cain’s denial that God was a Judge. The “sprinkling” of the blood of Jesus, an expression borrowed from the blood-sprinklings of the Old Covenant (Exodus 24:8), is also alluded to by St Peter (1 Peter 1:2).
See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven:25. him that speaketh] Not Moses, as Chrysostom supposed, but God. The speaker is the same under both dispensations, different as they are. God spoke alike from Sinai and from heaven. The difference of the places whence they spoke involves the whole difference of their tone and revelations. Perhaps the writer regarded Christ as the speaker alike from Sinai as from Heaven, for even the Jews represented the Voice at Sinai as being the Voice of Michael, who was sometimes identified with “the Shechinah,” or the Angel of the Presence. The verb for “speaketh” is χρηματίζοντα, as in Hebrews 8:5, Hebrews 11:7.
if they escaped not] Hebrews 2:2-3, Hebrews 3:17, Hebrews 10:28-29.
much more] On this proportional method of statement, characteristic of the writer, as also of Philo, see Hebrews 1:4, Hebrews 3:3, Hebrews 7:20, Hebrews 8:6.
Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.26. whose voice then shook the earth] Exodus 19:18; Jdg 5:4; Psalm 114:7.
but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more] Rather, “again, once for all.” The quotation is from Haggai 2:6-7, “yet once, it is a little while” (comp. Hosea 1:4).
but also heaven] “For the powers of the heavens shall be shaken” (Luke 21:26).
And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.27. And this word, Yet once more] The argument on the phrase “Again, yet once for all,” and the bringing it into connexion with the former shaking of the earth at Sinai resembles the style of argument on the word “to-day” in Hebrews 3:7 to Hebrews 4:9; and on the word “new” in Hebrews 8:13.
the removing …] The rest of this verse may be punctuated “Signifies the removal of the things that are being shaken as of things which have been made, in order that things which cannot be shaken, may remain.” The “things unshakeable” are God’s heavenly city and eternal kingdom (Daniel 2:44; Revelation 21:1, &c.). The material world—its shadows, symbols and all that belong to it—are quivering, unreal, evanescent (Psalm 102:25-26; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 20:11). It is only the Ideal which is endowed with eternal reality (Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:13-14). This view, which the Alexandrian theology had learnt from the Ethnic Inspiration of Plato, is the reverse of the view taken by materialists and sensualists. They only believe in what they can taste, and see, and “grasp with both hands;” but to the Christian idealist, who walks by faith and not by sight, the Unseen is visible (ὡς ὁρῶν τὸν Ἀόρατον (Hebrews 11:27), τὰ γὰρ ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ … νοούμενα καθορᾶται, Romans 1:20), and the Material is only a perishing copy of an Eternal Archetype. The earthquake which dissolves and annihilates things sensible is powerless against the Things Invisible. The rushing waters of the cataract only shake the shadow of the pine.
Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:28. Wherefore] This splendid strain of comparison and warning ends with a brief and solemn appeal.
let us have grace] Or “let us feel thankfulness, whereby, &c.”
with reverence and godly fear] Another well-supported reading is μετ' εὐλαβείας (Hebrews 5:7, Hebrews 11:7) καὶ δέους “with godly caution and fear.” The word δέος for “fear” does not occur elsewhere in the N.T. The same particles καὶ γάρ “for indeed” are used in Hebrews 4:2.
For our God is a consuming fire.29. for our God is a consuming fire]. The reference is to Deuteronomy 4:24, and the special application of the description to one set of circumstances shews that this is not—like “God is light” and “God is love”—a description of the whole character of God, but an anthropomorphic way of expressing His hatred of apostasy and idolatry. Here the reference is made to shew why we ought to serve God with holy reverence and fear.