It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)The living God.—As in Hebrews 3:12; Hebrews 9:14 the exact meaning of the writer’s words is “a Living God;” and a reference to the first of these passages (and to Hebrews 4:12) will show clearly what is their force in this place. There can be little doubt that Deuteronomy 32, from which he has been quoting, is still in his thought. See Deuteronomy 32:40—“I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever.”2 Samuel 24. He preferred "to fall into the hands of the Lord," and God smote seventy thousand men by the pestilence. The idea here is, that to fall into the hands of the Lord, after having despised his mercy and rejected his salvation, would be terrific; and the fear of this should deter from the commission of the dreadful crime. The phrase "living God" is used in the Scripture in opposition to "idols." God always lives; his power is capable of being always exerted. He is not like the idols of wood or stone which have no life, and which are not to be dreaded, but he always lives. It is the more fearful to fall into his hands because he will live "forever." A man who inflicts punishment will die, and the punishment will come to an end; but God will never cease to exist, and the punshment which he is capable of inflicting today he will be capable of inflicting forever and ever. To fall into his hands, therefore, "for the purpose of punishment" - which is the idea here - is fearful:
(1) because he has all power, and can inflict just what punishment he pleases;
(2) because he is strictly just, and will inflict the punishment which ought to be inflicted;
(3) because he lives forever, and can carry on his purpose of punishment to eternal ages; and
(4) because the actual inflictions of punishment which have occurred show what is to be dreaded.
So it was on the old world; on the cities of the plain; on Babylon, Idumea, Capernaum, and Jerusalem; and so it is in the world of wo - the eternal abodes of despair, where the worm never dies. All people must, in one sense, fall into his hands. They must appear before him. They must be brought to his bar when they die. How unspeakably important it is then now to embrace his offers of salvation, that we may not fall into his hands as a righteous, avenging judge, and sink beneath his uplifted arm forever!
living God—therefore able to punish for ever (Mt 10:28).Daniel 5:6. It should strike horror into their heart, trembling into their persons, Deu 28:65,66, by apostacy from him as a Father, to be subjected to him as a Judge, and as obnoxious to his severest judgment. Him in whose hand is power inexpressible, 1 Chronicles 29:12, to avenge himself on his enemies, Psalm 90:11, who have renounced him as their God, and provoked him to fury by it. A God that will not repent of vengeance, and who liveth ever to inflict it; who lifts up his hand to heaven, and saith, I live for ever, Deu 32:39,40; to punish with everlasting burning, and a devouring fire, such traitors to himself. So is he described, Isaiah 33:14 Matthew 10:28. His vengeance on these apostates is like himself, everlasting. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)31. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God] Fearful for the deliberate apostate and even for the penitent sinner (1 Chronicles 21:13; 1 Samuel 24:14; LXX. Sir 2:18), and yet better in any case than to fall into the hands of man.
of the living God] Hebrews 3:12.Hebrews 10:31. Τὸ ἐμπεσεῖν, to fall) It is a good thing to fall into God’s hands with faith, 2 Samuel 24:14 : it is a terrible thing to fall rashly into His hands, Hebrews 10:27; comp. Sir 8:1.Verse 31. - It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. David, when the option was given him, preferred falling into the hand of the LORD to falling into the hand of man (2 Samuel 24:14), trusting in the greatness of his mercies. But the case contemplated here is that of its being "too late to cry for mercy, when it is the time of justice." Fearful (the writer would say) is the thought of being exposed, without possibility of escape or of atonement, to the wrath of the Eternal Righteousness. The inspired author of this Epistle had evidently an awful sense of the Divine wrath against sin, and of man's liability to it without atonement. He felt deeply the contradiction between humanity as it is and its ideal of perfection; and hence the wrath attributed to God in Holy Writ would appear to him as inseparable from a just conception of Divine holiness. For the more ardent the love in the human heart of moral good, by so much the keener is the indignation against moral evil, and the sense of the righteousness of retribution. The existence of such evil at all in the good God's universe is indeed a mystery; but, as long as it is there, we cannot but conceive the face of the holy God as set utterly against it; and so any revelation to us of the Divine nature would be imperfect did it not include the idea which is humanly expressed by such terms as "zeal," "jealousy," "wrath," "vengeance." Hence came the long-felt need of some atonement, to reconcile sinful man to the eternal holiness. This need was expressed of old by the institution of sacrifice, which, however - as is so clearly perceived in this Epistle - could never itself be really efficacious in the spiritual sphere of things. In the atonement of Christ (if rightly apprehended) is found at last a true satisfaction of this spiritual need. But, man's concurrence being still required, the idea of Divine wrath remains notwithstanding, as operative against such as, in deliberate perversity of free-will, after full knowledge, refuse to be thus reconciled. Hence the awful anticipations of future judgment on some, contained in this Epistle. The nature and duration of the doom to come, on such as remain subject to it, are in these passages left in obscurity. They speak only of φοβερά τις ἐκδοχὴ, an undefined expectation of something terrible. It may be observed, however, that, whatever be the force of other Scriptures in which the fire of that day is described as eternal and unquenchable, here at least the figure of a zeal of fire to devour the adversaries seems in itself to suggest rather utter destruction than perpetual pain.
Comp. lxx, 2 Samuel 24:14; Sir. 2:18.
Of the living God
The living God, revealed in the living Christ, will not suffer his sacrificial gift and his covenant to be slighted and insulted with impunity. See on Hebrews 3:12.
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