Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.II.
(1-4) These verses must be closely joined with the first chapter. Before advancing to the next step in his argument, the writer pauses to enforce the duty which results from what has been already established. But (as in Hebrews 4:14-16) the exhortation does not interrupt the thought, but rather serves as a connecting link. (See Note on Hebrews 2:5.)
(1) Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard.—Better, to the things heard; for this expression contains the complement of the thought of Hebrews 1:1. Both “speak” and “hear” are words which carry weighty emphasis in this Epistle. (See Hebrews 1:1; Hebrews 2:2; Hebrews 12:25; Hebrews 3:5; Hebrews 3:7; Hebrews 4:2, et al.) Because of the supreme dignity of Him in whom at the last God speaks, men are bound to give the more earnest heed to the words spoken, whether heard by them from the Lord Himself or (as in this case, Hebrews 2:3) from His servants.
Lest at any time we should let them slip.—This translation (first introduced by the Genevan Bible of 1560) substantially gives the sense, but inverts the figure presented in the Greek. The words must be rendered, lest possibly we drift away (Wiclif, “lest perauenture we fleten awey”). It is the man that is in danger of being carried along by the current: unless the mind be held closely to the words that God has spoken, it must drift away from them, and from the salvation which they promise. There seems no foundation for the rendering of the margin, first given in the Genevan Testament of 1557.
For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward;(2) The word spoken by angels.—Or rather, through angels (comp. Hebrews 1:2): the word was God’s, but angels were the medium through which it was given to men. In accordance with the tone of the whole passage (in which the thought is not the reward of obedience, but the peril of neglect of duty), “the word” must denote divine commands delivered by angels, and—as the close parallel presented by Hebrews 10:28-29, seems to prove—especially the commands of the Mosaic law. Hence this verse must be joined to the other passages (Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19; comp. also Acts 7:38) which bring into relief the ministration of angels in the giving of the Law; and the nature of the argument of this Epistle gives special importance to the subject here. The only passage in the Pentateuch which can be quoted in illustration is Deuteronomy 33:2 : “The Lord came from Sinai. . . . He came from amid myriads of holy ones.” The Greek version (introducing a double rendering of the Hebrew) adds, “at His right hand were angels with Him;” and two of the Targums likewise speak of the “myriads of holy angels.” Psalm 68:17 is difficult and obscure, but very possibly agrees with the passage just quoted in referring to angels as the attendants of Jehovah on the mount. Nowhere in the Old Testament is the thought carried beyond this point; but there are a few passages in Jewish writers which clearly show that such a ministration of angels as is here spoken of was a tenet of Jewish belief in the apostolic age. Philo, after saying that the angels have their name from reporting the commands of the Father to His children, and the wants of the children to the Father, adds: “We are unable to contain His exceeding and unalloyed benefits, if He Himself proffers them to us without employing others as His ministers.” Much more important are the words of Josephus (Ant. xv. 5, § 3), who introduces Herod as reminding the Jews that the noblest of the ordinances and the holiest of the things contained in the laws had been learnt by them from God through angels. Jewish writers quoted by Wetstein speak of the “angels of service” whom Moses had known from the time of the giving of the law; and, moreover, of the angel who, when Moses had through terror forgotten all that he had been taught during the forty days, delivered the law to him again. Such speculations are of interest as showing the place which this tenet held in Jewish doctrine and belief. Here and in Galatians 3:19 (see Note there) this mediation of angels is adduced as a mark of the inferiority of the law; in Acts 7:53, where no such comparison is made, the contrast implied is between angels and men as givers of a law.
Was stedfast.—Rather, proved steadfast or sure; evidence of this was given by the punishment which overtook the transgressor, whether inflicted by the direct visitation of God or by human hands faithfully executing the divine will. Of the two words well rendered transgression and disobedience, the one points especially to the infraction of a positive precept, the other is more general: the former relates more commonly to “thou shalt not;” the latter rather to “thou shalt.” The two words are here united, that every violation of the command may be included. The use of reward in a neutral or unfavourable sense (2Peter 2:13; Psalm 94:2, et al.) is not uncommon in our older writers. (Comp. “the reward of a villain,” in Shakespeare.)
How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;(3) How shall we escape?—In a different context these words might naturally mean, “How shall we, transgressors of the law, escape from the penalty it threatens, if we neglect the one means of deliverance now offered us?” (Comp. Galatians 3:13; Galatians 4:5.) Here, however, are placed in contrast the command and threatening which came through angels and the salvation “spoken through the Lord”; while the one “word” is thus wholly unlike the other in substance and in form of proclamation, each is a law, in that neglect is visited with penalty. On the intrinsic greatness of the salvation the writer does not dwell; it is implied in the unique dignity and commission of Him through whom it was given.
Which at the first began to be spoken.—Better, which having at the first been spoken through the Lord, was made sure unto us by them that heard. “Through the Lord” (comp. Hebrews 1:2) was spoken this word of God which brought salvation. In two other passages Jesus receives the name “our Lord” (Hebrews 7:14; Hebrews 13:20), but nowhere else in this Epistle (unless perhaps in Hebrews 12:14) is He spoken of as “the Lord”; the dignity of the title here heightens the contrast. “By them that heard “the word from Him, the writer says, it “was made sure” (not confirmed, as if stronger attestation were the meaning intended) “unto us.” It is evident that the writer here classes himself with those who had not immediately heard the word from Jesus. Such language as this stands in striking contrast with St. Paul’s claim, repeatedly maintained, to have received his doctrine directly from the Lord Himself (Galatians 1:12; 1Corinthians 9:1, et al.).
God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?(4) God also bearing them witness.—That is, bearing witness with them to the truth they preached. Mark 16:20 is a striking parallel; see also Acts 4:30. The divine attestation was given by miracles and by “gifts” (literally, distributions, as in the margin; see 1Corinthians 12:11) “of the Holy Ghost.” We have here, as in Acts 2:22 and 2Corinthians 12:12 (see the Notes), the full threefold description of miracles, as “signs” and “wonders” and “powers”; as wonderful works that are wrought by divine power, and are thus signs of the divine presence and symbols of a corresponding spiritual work. The words here used are illustrated especially by 2Corinthians 12:12, in its reference to miracles as attesting the apostolic preaching. But yet “greater works” (John 14:12) were wrought by the messengers of Christ, in that through them were bestowed the gifts of the Spirit. The last words, “according to His will,” bring us back to the first words of the section (Hebrews 1:1); as it is God who speaks to men in His Son, it is He who works with those who proclaim the word that they have heard, attesting their message by gifts according to His will.
For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak.(5-18) It was needful that Jesus, as Author of salvation to man, should in all points be made like to those whom He saves, and in their likeness suffer and die; thus He becomes for them a merciful and faithful High Priest.
(5) For.—There is a very clear connection between this verse and Hebrews 1:14. “Angels are but ministering spirits, serving God in the cause of those who shall inherit salvation; for not to angels is the world to come made subject.” But the connection with Hebrews 2:2-3, is equally important: “the salvation that is now given has been proclaimed not by angels but by the Lord, and it is God Himself who works with the messengers of the Lord; for not unto angels,” &c. The word “salvation” binds together this section and the first. (See Hebrews 1:14; Hebrews 2:2; Hebrews 2:10.)
Hath he not put in subjection.—Better, did He subject; for the reference is to the passage quoted in the following verses, which is already in the writer’s thought. “He:” God, speaking in the prophetic Scripture.
The world to come.—The same expression occurs in the English version of Hebrews 6:5, but in the Greek “world” is represented by entirely different words. Here, as in Hebrews 1:6, the meaning is “inhabited earth,” “world of man”; there, the word properly relates to time, “age.” Is “the world to come” still future, or is it here looked at from the Old Testament point of view? (See Hebrews 1:2.) The following verses (especially Hebrews 2:9) make it clear that the period referred to is that which succeeds the exaltation of Christ. We ourselves cannot but markedly distinguish the present stage of Messiah’s kingdom from the future; but in the perspective of prophecy the two were blended. The thought of this kingdom amongst men has been present from the first verses of the Epistle onwards; hence, “whereof we speak.”
But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him?(6) But one in a certain place.—Better, somewhere. The expression is perfectly indefinite (comp. Hebrews 4:4). As a rule, the words of Scripture are in this Epistle quoted as God’s own utterances; and though the nature of the quotation (which is an address to God) made this impossible here, the writer seems gladly to avoid the mention of the human prophet, perhaps as distracting the thought from the divine prophecy. This studious indefiniteness in citation is common in Philo, and sometimes occurs where he cannot possibly have been in doubt as to the source of his quotation.
Testified.—That is, in Biblical usage, solemnly declared: the words are no light exclamation of wonder. The quotation which follows (from Psalm 8:4-6) agrees verbally with the LXX. version. The only point of doubt is whether the last clause of Hebrews 2:7 was included in the quotation, as in some very good ancient authorities it is absent from the text. The weight of external evidence is certainly in its favour; but it is easier to see how a scribe may have introduced the clause through his familiarity with the Psalm than to explain its omission if it stood in the original text of this Epistle. The Greek translation here faithfully represents the Hebrew, except in one point. For “a little lower than the angels,” the Hebrew text has “a little less than God.” The change (which is similar to that noticed in Hebrews 1:6) was probably introduced by the translators on a principle which we may often trace in their work—a wish to tone down expressions relating to the Deity which seemed strong or bold. In quoting the passage the writer does not depart from the rendering most familiar to the readers of the Greek Bible; but, though the clause in its altered form accords well with what had preceded the quotation, and, so to speak, more completely interweaves the words of the Psalm with the context in which they are here placed, yet no stress is laid on “angels.” The argument of this section would not be affected materially if the true rendering of the Hebrew were restored. The eighth Psalm is an expression of amazement that God, who has “set His glory upon the heavens,” should deign to remember man. Not only is He “mindful of man,” but He has made him but “little less than God,” “crowned him with honour,” given him “dominion over” all His works. The original blessing pronounced on man (Genesis 1:28) is clearly in the Psalmist’s thought, and suggests his words. The language which here precedes (Hebrews 2:5) and follows (Hebrews 2:8) shows that the last clause (“thou didst subject all things under his feet”) bears the stress of the quotation. (That the same words are the groundwork of 1Corinthians 15:24-28 is one of the most interesting coincidences between this Epistle and St. Paul.) It is easy to see, therefore, for what purpose these verses are here adduced. Not to angels is “the world to come” subjected: in the Scripture there are found words declaring that a divine decree has subjected all things to man. How the thought is combined with the argument of the whole passage will be seen in Hebrews 2:9. A question at once arises: Did the meaning here assigned to the Psalm exist in David’s thought? If not, on what principle does this application rest? David had in mind the words of the primal blessing, and probably did not himself think of more than those words seemed to imply. But the complete meaning of God’s words can be learnt only when they are fulfilled in history. To Him who speaks in Scripture the material dominion was the symbol of a higher and a universal rule, to be fulfilled in the Son of Man when the fulness of time should come. The Psalm is not directly Messianic,—it relates to man; but it is through the Man Christ Jesus that it receives its complete fulfilment for mankind.
Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.(8) Thou hast put . . .—There is in the Greek a studious repetition of the leading word, which should not be lost in translation: “Thou didst subject all things under his feet. For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing unsubjected to him. But now we see not yet all things subjected to him.”
For in that . . .—The assertion of Hebrews 2:5 is established by this Scripture; for if God has thus declared all things subject to man, there is nothing that did not fall under his rule. “Did not,” in the divine purpose; but this purpose is not yet fulfilled in regard to the race of man.
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.(9) But we see Jesus . . .—Rather, But we see Him who has been made a little lower than angels, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour. There is One in whom the divine purpose is fulfilled in all its parts. He was made a little (the rendering of the margin, “a little while,” is much less probable) lower than angels, and He is crowned with glory. In one point we note an apparent departure from the sense of the Psalm, since words (“a little lower”) which there denote dignity here denote humiliation. This difference is not essential; in each case it is the position of man that is signified, and our Lord’s assumption of human nature must in any case be spoken of as a descent to a lower sphere. There is peculiar fitness in the use of the human name, Jesus, for Him in whom the Psalmist’s words concerning man are literally fulfilled. It is noteworthy that we do not read, “We see all things put in subjection unto Jesus”—this would conflict with the truth stated in Hebrews 10:13 : other words of the Psalm are substituted, which do not imply that the complete actual subjection is already accomplished. This exaltation of One is not a substitute for, but involves (Romans 8:17; Romans 8:29, et al.), and renders possible, the exaltation of the many. This is clear from the “not yet” of Hebrews 2:8; and the same truth is brought out in a different form at the close of this verse. In the midst of this application of the words of Scripture to Jesus, the writer introduces his first reference to His death. The offence of the cross (Galatians 5:11) was an ever-active force among Jews; this is present to the writer’s mind throughout the Epistle. The words thus suddenly brought in here, reminding us that the exaltation of Christ was a reward for His obedience unto death (another echo of St. Paul—Philippians 2:9-10; see also Hebrews 12:2), prepare for the more detailed teaching of the following verses—Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 2:14-15; Hebrews 2:17.
There is an apparent difficulty in the position of the last clause of the verse, “that He should taste death for every man.” We cannot doubt that these words depend on those which immediately precede; and yet how can it be said that Jesus has been crowned with glory in order that He may “taste death for every man”? Almost all difficulty is removed if we consider that (to use Dean Alford’s words) “it is on the triumphant issue of His sufferings that their efficacy depends.” But it is impossible for the Christian to separate, even in thought, the one from the other—the sufferings from the certain triumph. We might, perhaps, say that it is only by a misuse of human analogies that we separate them even in time: in the Gospel of St. John, at all events (if not in this very Epistle—see Hebrews 2:14), we are taught that in His crucifixion Jesus is exalted. This clause, then, brings us back to the thought of the glory reserved for man: through death the fulfilment of God’s purpose might seem to be frustrated; through the death of Jesus on behalf of every man (1Peter 3:18) it is fulfilled. The outline presented here is filled up in later chapters; there we shall read that man’s inheritance was forfeited through sin, and that only through the virtue of a death which made atonement for sin is the promise again made sure (Hebrews 9:15-16; Hebrews 9:28). To “taste death” is a familiar Hebraism. If it has any special significance here, it would seem less natural to see (with Chrysostom) a reference to the short duration of our Saviour’s death, than to understand the words as pointing to the actual taste of all the bitterness of death. (Comp. Hebrews 6:4-5.)
One various reading it is impossible to pass by, though it is preserved in but two of our Greek MSS., and these of no early date. For “by the grace of God” many (apparently most) copies of the Epistle that were known to Origen read “apart from God.” This reading was followed by others of the Fathers, and found its way into some manuscripts of early versions. The Nestorians gladly accepted words which to them seemed to teach that in suffering the man Jesus was apart from God. Origen and others understood the words differently, as meaning, taste death for every being except God. (Comp. 1Corinthians 15:27.) A reading so widely known, which in later times has been favoured by as eminent a critic as Bengel, demanded notice, though it is almost certainly incorrect. No interpretation which the words admit yields a probable sense; on the other hand, the reference to “the grace of God” is full of significance. (See Hebrews 2:4; Hebrews 2:10.)
For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.(10) For.—What seemed to Jews incredible, that the Christ should die, was ordained “by the grace of God.” For thus to make sufferings the path to His kingdom was worthy of God, for whose glory and through whose power all things exist; who as Creator commands all agencies, and who cannot but do that which will subserve His glory. If the means at which men wondered were chosen by God, no one may doubt their supreme fitness for the end. In what this fitness consisted the following words partially explain.
In bringing.—It is doubtful whether the Greek word should not be rendered, having brought. With this translation we must certainly explain the words on the same principle as the past tenses of Hebrews 2:7-8. As in the divine counsels all things were subjected to man, with the same propriety it may be said that God had brought many sons to glory when the Saviour suffered and died.
Many sons.—The new thought here introduced is of great importance in the argument. The divine purpose is to bring many sons (comp. Hebrews 1:14) unto glory—the glory already spoken of as reserved for man—through His Son, who has Himself received this glory that He may make it theirs.
Captain.—This word occurs in three other places. In Acts 5:31 it bears its original meaning, “Leader” (“a Leader and a Saviour”); in Hebrews 12:2 and Acts 3:15 the idea of “leading the way” has passed into that of origination. In the present case, also, Author is the best rendering; but in a context which so distinctly presents our Lord as taking on Himself the conditions of man’s lot, and so passing into the glory which He wins for man, the primary thought of leading must not be entirely set aside. It is as the Author of salvation that He is made perfect through sufferings. Three aspects of this truth are presented in the Epistle. By His suffering unto death He “bare the sins of many” (Hebrews 2:9, Hebrews 9:28); He offered the sacrifice of a perfect obedience (Hebrews 5:8); He was enabled to be a perfect representative of man. This last thought pervades the remaining verses of the chapter.
For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren,(11) For both he that sanctifieth . . .—The special meaning of “sanctify” in this Epistle (Hebrews 9:13; Hebrews 10:10; Hebrews 10:14; Hebrews 10:29; Hebrews 13:12) seems to be, bringing into fellowship with God, the Holy One. “They who are sanctified”—literally, are being sanctified (comp. Acts 2:47; 1Corinthians 1:18)—are those whom the Captain of their salvation, in fulfilment of the Father’s purpose (Hebrews 2:10), is leading unto glory. The thoughts of the last verse, therefore, are repeated here, with a change of figure; and again (as in Hebrews 2:9) we note the brief reference to a subject which will be prominent in later chapters; see especially Hebrews 13:12.
Are all of one.—Of one Father. This is the connecting link between Hebrews 2:11 and Hebrews 2:10, which speaks of the “many sons” and their Saviour. Though His sonship is unique and infinitely exalted, He is not ashamed to own them as brethren.
Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.(12) I will declare thy name . . . .—The quotation is taken (with very slight variation) from the 22nd verse of Psalms 22 (Psalm 22:22)—a Psalm remarkable for its close connection with the narratives of the Passion of our Lord. Whether the inscription which speaks of David as author is correct, or whether (from the difficulty of discovering any period in David’s history to which the expressions used can apply) we consider the Psalm to have been written after the Captivity, there can be no doubt of its Messianic character. Some would class this Psalm with Psalms 110 (see Note on Hebrews 1:13), as simply and directly prophetic, having no historic foreground; but the language of some of the verses is so definite and peculiar that we must certainly regard it as descriptive of actual experience, and must rather regard the Psalm (comp. Hebrews 1:8-9) as typically prophetic of Christ. Each division of this verse is in point as a quotation. (1) Those to whom the Messiah will declare God’s name He speaks of as “brethren;” (2) not alone, but in the “church” (or rather, in a congregation of God’s people; see Psalm 22:22) will He sing the praise of God. The latter thought—community with men, as attested by a like relation to God—is brought out with still greater prominence in Hebrews 2:13.
And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me.(13) I will put my trust in him . . . Behold I and the children . . .—Of the two passages cited in this verse, the latter is certainly from Isaiah 8:18; and though the former might be derived from 2Samuel 22:3 or Isaiah 12:2, yet, as the words are also found in the same chapter of Isaiah (Isaiah 8:17), we may with certainty consider this the source of the quotation. That the section of Isaiah’s prophecies to which Hebrews 8 belongs is directly Messianic, is a fact that must be kept in mind; but the stress of the quotation cannot be laid on this. The prophet, as the representative of God to the people, has given utterance to the divine message: in these words, however, “I will put my trust” (better, “I will have my trust,” for continuous confidence is what the words denote) “in Him,” he retires into the same position with the people whom he has addressed; their relation towards God’s word and the hope it inspires must be his also. This two-fold position of the prophet symbolised the two-fold nature of Him of whom every prophet was a type. (In Isaiah 8:17, the Authorised version, “I will look for Him,” is nearer to the strict meaning of the original; but the difference is of little moment.)
The second passage is free from difficulty up to a certain point. In Isaiah 7, 8 we not only read of the word of God sent by Isaiah, but also find his sons associated with him in his message to the people. The warning of judgment and the promise are, so to speak, held up before the people inscribed in the symbolic names borne by the sons, Maher-shalal-hash-baz (“Speed the spoil, hastens the prey”) and Shear-jashub (“A remnant shall return;” see Isaiah 7:3; Isaiah 10:21), and by Isaiah himself (“Salvation of Jehovah”). “Behold I,” he says, “and the children whom the Lord hath given me, are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts.” By God’s own appointment, the children whom God gave him, though themselves no prophets, were joined with himself in the relation of prophets to the people, and were representatives of those whom God, who “hideth His face from the house of Jacob” (Isaiah 8:17), will save. As in the former passage Isaiah is taken as representing Christ, so here those who, being of the same blood, are joined with him in his work and in the promise of salvation, represent those whom the Son calls “brethren.” The difficulty is that, whereas the original passage speaks of “the children” of the prophet, the meaning here must be children of God, given by Him to the Son. But no type can answer in every respect to that which it represents. The association of Jesus with His, people contains three elements of thought—His essential superiority, His sharing the same nature with His people, His brotherhood with them. The first two thoughts are truly represented in this Old Testament figure; the last no figure could at the same time set forth. And though Hebrews 2:12-13 are directly connected with the word “brethren,” yet, as the next verse shows, the most important constituent of the thought is community of nature. It should be observed that in these two verses the citations are not so distinctly adduced by way of proof as are those of the first chapter.
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;(14) Forasmuch then . . .—The two members of this verse directly recall the thoughts of Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 2:9. (1) It was the will of God that salvation should be won by the Son for sons; (2) this salvation could only be won by means of death.
The children.—Said with reference to Hebrews 2:13.
Flesh and blood.—Literally, blood and flesh, the familiar order of the words being departed from here and in Ephesians 6:12. This designation of human nature on its material side is found four times in the New Testament, and is extremely common in Jewish writers.
The emphasis of the following statement is note. worthy: “He Himself also in like manner took part of the same things.” His assumption of our nature had for its object suffering and death.
Destroy him.—Rather, bring him to nought; annul his power. The comment on these words will be found in Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 9:26; for it was as the lord of sin, which was the cause (Romans 5:12) and the sting (1Corinthians 15:56) of death, that the devil held dominion over death (or, as the words might mean, wielded the power possessed by death). (Comp. 2Timothy 1:10; 1John 3:8; also Revelation 1:18.) Combined with this is the thought which runs through this chapter—the assimilation of the Redeemer to the redeemed in the conditions of His earthly life. By meeting death Himself, He vanquishes and destroys death for them.
And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.(15) Deliver them who through fear of death . . . .—This verse brings into relief the former misery and the present freedom. We may well suppose these words to have been prompted by the intense sympathy of the writer with the persecuted and tempted Christians whom he addresses. He writes throughout as one who never forgets their need of sympathetic help, and who knows well the power of the motives, the allurements and the threats, employed to lead them into apostasy. The crushing power of the “fear of death” over those who had not grasped the truth that, in Christ, life and immortality are brought to light, perhaps no thought of ours can reach.
For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.(16) He took not on him the nature of angels.—The rendering of the margin approaches very nearly the true meaning of the verse; whereas the text (in which the Authorised version differs from all our earlier translations) introduces confusion into the argument. Having spoken in Hebrews 2:14 of our Lord’s assumption of human nature, the writer in these words assigns the reason: “For surely it is not of angels that He taketh hold, but He taketh hold of the seed of Abraham.” Though the words “take hold,” which occur twice in the verse, probably cannot directly signify “help” (as is often maintained), they distinctly suggest laying hold for the sake of giving help; and a beautiful illustration may be found in some of the Gospel narratives of our Lord’s works of healing (Mark 8:23; Luke 14:4). It is probable that the language used here is derived from the Old Testament. In Hebrews 8:9, a quotation from Jeremiah 31, we read, “In the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt.” Isaiah 41:8-9, however, is perhaps a still closer parallel (for the word used in the Greek version is very similar, and no doubt expresses the same meaning): “Thou Israel, my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend; thou of whom I have taken hold from the ends of the earth.” If the writer had these verses in his thought, it is hardly necessary to inquire why he chooses the expression “seed of Abraham,” instead of one of (apparently) wider meaning, such as Hebrews 2:7-8, might seem to require. But even apart from this passage of Isaiah, and the natural fitness of such a phrase in words addressed to Jews, we may doubt if any other language would have been equally expressive. For as to the means, it was by becoming a child of Abraham that the Saviour “took hold of” our race to raise it up; and as to the purpose, St. Paul teaches us that “the seed of Abraham” includes all who inherit Abraham’s faith.
Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.(17) Wherefore.—Since it is “the seed of Abraham,” His brethren, that He would help.
In all things.—These words must be taken with “made like.” In all respects (the single exception does not come into notice here, see Hebrews 4:15) He must be made like to “the brethren” (a reference to Hebrews 2:12): like them, He must be liable to, and must suffer, temptation, sorrow, pain, death.
That he might be.—Rather, that He might prove, or become (the words imply what is more fully expressed in Hebrews 5:8), a compassionate and faithful High Priest. The high priest was the representative of men to God; without such likeness (see Hebrews 5:1-2) He could be no true High Priest for man. The order of the Greek words throws an emphasis on “compassionate” which is in full harmony with what we have seen to be the pervading tone of the chapter. One who has not so understood the infirmities of his brethren as to be “compassionate,” cannot be their “faithful” representative before God. But the word “faithful” is still more closely connected with the following words. If through the power of sympathy which the Saviour has gained “by sufferings” He becomes “compassionate” as our High Priest, it is through “the suffering of death” (Hebrews 2:9) that He proves Himself “the faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation (or rather, propitiation) for the sins of the people.” The word “high priest,” hereafter to be so prominent in the Epistle, is brought in somewhat suddenly, but several expressions in this chapter (see also Hebrews 1:3) have prepared for and led up to the crowning thought here brought before us. The characteristic function of the high priest was his presentation of the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, that expiation might be made for the sins of the whole people, that the displeasure of God might not rest on the nation on account of sin. (Comp. Hebrews 2:11.) The words rendered “propitiate” and “propitiation” are not of frequent occurrence in the New Testament (Luke 18:13; 1John 2:2; 1John 4:10—see also Romans 3:25), but are very often found in the LXX. The subject receives its full treatment in Hebrews 9, 10.
For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.(18) For.—The necessity of being “in all things made like to His brethren” has been shown from the nature of the case; it is now illustrated from the result. The “brethren” and the “people” of Hebrews 2:17 are here “the tempted.” Through the temptations arose those sins of the people for which He makes propitiation. In His having been tempted lies His special ability to help the tempted, by His sympathy, by His knowledge of the help that is needed, by the position of High Priest which He has gained through suffering. It is difficult to decide between two translations of the first words of the verse: (1) “In that He Himself,” (2) “Wherein He Himself hath suffered being tempted.” The former is simpler, but, perhaps, less natural as a rendering of the Greek. The latter may indeed at first seem to set a bound to our Lord’s ability to help, but with the recollection of the infinitude of His life (comp. John 21:25) all such limitation disappears.