Hebrews 3:9
When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(9) According to our best MSS. this verse will run thus: Where (or, wherewith) your fathers tempted by trial, and saw My works forty years. The meaning of the Hebrew (with which the LXX. very nearly agrees) is: “Where your fathers tempted Me, proved Me; also saw My work.” The change of reading is more interesting than important, as the sense is not materially different. Both here and in the original passage it seems probable that the “work,” or “works,” should be understood of the divine judgments which the disobedient people “saw” and bore during forty years. In the Psalm (and apparently in Hebrews 3:17 of this chapter) the mention of the forty years connects itself with the words which follow; but here with the provocations of the people and their punishment. It is held by many that in this period of forty years is contained a reference to the time that intervened between our Saviour’s earthly ministry and the destruction of Jerusalem; and a Jewish tradition is quoted which assigns to “the days of Messiah” a duration of forty years.

3:7-13 Days of temptation are often days of provocation. But to provoke God, when he is letting us see that we entirely depend and live upon him, is a provocation indeed. The hardening of the heart is the spring of all other sins. The sins of others, especially of our relations, should be warnings to us. All sin, especially sin committed by God's professing, privileged people, not only provokes God, but it grieves him. God is loth to destroy any in, or for their sin; he waits long to be gracious to them. But sin, long persisted in, will make God's wrath discover itself in destroying the impenitent; there is no resting under the wrath of God. Take heed: all who would get safe to heaven must look about them; if once we allow ourselves to distrust God, we may soon desert him. Let those that think they stand, take heed lest they fall. Since to-morrow is not ours, we must make the best improvement of this day. And there are none, even the strongest of the flock, who do not need help of other Christians. Neither are there any so low and despised, but the care of their standing in the faith, and of their safety, belongs to all. Sin has so many ways and colours, that we need more eyes than ours own. Sin appears fair, but is vile; it appears pleasant, but is destructive; it promises much, but performs nothing. The deceitfulness of sin hardens the soul; one sin allowed makes way for another; and every act of sin confirms the habit. Let every one beware of sin.Proved me - "As if they would have made an experiment how much it was possible for me to bear." - Doddridge. The meaning is: "they put my patience to a thorough trial."

And saw my works - That is, my miracles, or my interpositions in their behalf. They saw the wonders at the Red Sea, the descent on Mount Sinai, the supply of manna, etc., and yet while seeing those works they rebelled. Even while sinners look on the doings of God, and are surrounded by the proofs of his power and goodness, they rebel, and provoke him to anger. Men sin when God is filling their houses with plenty; when he opens his hand daily to supply their wants; when they behold the manifestations of his goodness on the sea and on the land; and even in the midst of all the blessings of redemption, they provoke him to wrath.

Forty years - The whole time during which they were passing from Egypt to the promised land. This may mean either that they saw his works forty years, or that they tempted him forty years. The sense is not materially affected whichever interpretation is preferred.

9. When—rather, "Where," namely, in the wilderness.

your fathers—The authority of the ancients is not conclusive [Bengel].

tempted me, proved me—The oldest manuscripts read, "tempted (Me) in the way of testing," that is, putting (Me) to the proof whether I was able and willing to relieve them, not believing that I am so.

saw my works forty years—They saw, without being led thereby to repentance, My works of power partly in affording miraculous help, partly in executing vengeance, forty years. The "forty years" joined in the Hebrew and Septuagint, and below, Heb 3:17, with "I was grieved," is here joined with "they saw." Both are true; for, during the same forty years that they were tempting God by unbelief, notwithstanding their seeing God's miraculous works, God was being grieved. The lesson intended to be hinted to the Hebrew Christians is, their "to-day" is to last only between the first preaching of the Gospel and Jerusalem's impending overthrow, namely, FORTY YEARS; exactly the number of years of Israel's sojourn in the wilderness, until the full measure of their guilt having been filled up all the rebels were overthrown.

When your fathers tempted me; in the time and place forementioned, the fathers from whom you derive your being and corruption, yet glory in them and their traditions, whose state is aggravated from your line of successive rebellion, Acts 7:51-53. They have imbittered my Spirit by their unbelief; for upon the want of water, they questioned his power, wisdom, truth, and providence, to the denial of all, and sometimes multiplied it, Numbers 16:1-50, &c.

Proved me; a discontented quarrel with, and scrutiny of, Christ the Redeemer, that if he would not serve their lust, they would deny him, and apostatize from him, and return to Egypt; notwithstanding their having sufficient proof of him, yet they would contend with him, 1 Corinthians 10:9.

And saw my works forty years; all the Redeemer’s miracles, which he wrought for them in Egypt and the wilderness, they saw them plainly and presently on their tempting him; miracles of mercy and of punishments, by fire, by the earth opening, by fiery serpents, by the sword, by consuming six hundred thousand of them: all which were evidences sufficient to convince any of the wickedness of mistrusting him, Deu 29:2-4. This hardening of their hearts yet continued forty years, till all but two of them, Joshua and Caleb, were consumed; God by their sin was so grieved with them after such experience of his power for so long a time: see Exodus 32:10 Numbers 14:22. When your fathers tempted me,.... This the apostle cites and repeats, to expose the glorying of the Jews in their ancestors; to dissuade them from following their sinful practices; to deter them from the same by observing both their sin and punishment; and to heighten their regards to the voice and Gospel of Christ:

proved me; this is either an explication of the former phrase; or it may design the experience this people had of the power and goodness of God, notwithstanding their tempting and provoking the Lord by a distrust of them; which is an aggravation of their sin and ingratitude, and shows the forbearance of God, and that wicked men may partake of outward favours:

and saw my works forty years; that is, God's works of providence, in furnishing them with the necessaries of life, in guiding, protecting, and supporting them for the space of forty years, in the wilderness; and his miracles, and the punishment of their enemies; yet they saw and perceived not, but all this time sinned against the Lord, see Deuteronomy 29:2 the space of time, forty years, is in the psalm placed to the beginning of the next verse, and is joined with God's grief and indignation at the people, as it is also by the apostle, in Hebrews 3:17 but the people's sin, and God's grief at it, being of equal duration, it matters not to which it is placed, and therefore to both; perhaps, one reason of its being repeated, and so much notice taken of it is, because there was just this number of years from Christ's sufferings, to the destruction of Jerusalem; which the apostle might have in view.

When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Hebrews 3:9. Οὖ] is taken by Erasmus Schmid, Bengel, and Peirce as attraction to πειρασμοῦ instead of , wherewith. But in this case οὗ would have been connected immediately with πειρασμοῦ. It is the local “where;” thus stands, as frequently, in the sense of ὅπου, and refers back to ἐρήμῳ.

οὗ ἐπείρασαν οἱ πατέρες ὑμῶν ἐν δοκιμασίᾳ] where your fathers essayed temptation,[59] on the ground of proving or testing, i.e. where your fathers tempted me and put me to the test. δοκιμασία as ΠΕΙΡΆΖΕΙΝ here in the bad sense. The former contains an enhancement of the latter. This involves doubt with regard to the inclination of God to render help, that doubt with regard to His power of doing so.

καὶ εἶδον] κ.τ.λ.] and yet saw my works forty years long. This was a fact that aggravated their guilt. In the original, τεσσαράκοντα ἔτη belongs to the following ΠΡΟΣΏΧΘΙΣΑ. To the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews also this original connection was known, as is evident from Hebrews 3:17. If he nevertheless refers ΤΕΣΣΑΡΆΚΟΝΤΑ ἜΤΗ to that which precedes, and moreover consolidates this connection by means of the ΔΙΌ (ΔΙʼ Ὅ) interpolated only by himself, he must have been guided by a distinct design in doing so. Rightly, therefore, is it assumed (Calov, Wittich, Akersloot, Surenhus, Schöttgen, Chr. Fr. Schmid, Abresch, Böhme, Bleek, de Wette, Delitzseh, Riehm, Lehrbegr. des Hebräerbr. p. 618; Alford, Reiche, Comm. Crit. p. 22; Maier, Moll, Kurtz, and others) that the author discovered in the forty years during which the Israelites in the wilderness saw the works of God, a typical reference to the about equal space of time during which the Hebrews had now also witnessed the government of God as manifested in Christ, and would make this reference clear to the readers, in order thereby to render the more impressive his exhortation to receptiveness, while there is yet time. The reminder of Akersloot, Chr. Fr. Schmid, Abresch, Bleek, and others, is at the same time worthy of notice, viz. that also in the Talmud and by the Rabbins a duration of forty years is assigned to the Messianic kingdom with reference to Psalms 95. and the forty years of the wilderness. Comp. Sanhedr. fol. 99, 1 : R. Eliezer dixit: dies Messiae sunt quadraginta anni, sicut dicitur: quadraginta annos sqq. (Psalm 95:10); Tanchuma, fol. 79, 4 : Quamdiu durant anni Messiae? R. Akiba dixit: quadraginta annos, quemadmodum Israëlitae per tot annos in deserto fuerunt.

[59] In an unnatural manner, Hofmann: as εἶδον, so also even ἐπείρασαν finds its object in τὰ ἔργα μου.Hebrews 3:9. οὗ ἐπείρασάν με …, “where your fathers tempted me,” i.e., in the wilderness. Others take οὗ as = “with which,” attracted into genitive by πειρασμοῦ. ἐν δοκιμασίᾳ, “in putting me to the proof”. καὶ εἶδονἔτη, “and saw my works forty years,” the wonders of mercy and of judgment. In the psalm τεσσ. ἔτη are joined to προσώχθισα, διὸ being omitted. The same connection is adopted in Hebrews 3:17.9. when] Rather, “where,” i.e. at Massah, or in the wilderness. The rendering “wherewith” or “with which temptation,” would have been more naturally expressed in other ways.

proved me] The better reading is “by proving me.”

saw my works forty years] The “forty years” is purposely transferred from the next verse of the Psalm. The scene at Massah took place in the 40th and that at Meribah in the 1st year of the wanderings. Deuteronomy 9:7; Deuteronomy 33:8. They indicate the spirit of the Jews through the whole period. The number 40 is in the Bible constantly connected with judgment or trial, and it would have sounded more impressive in this passage if the date of the Epistle was shortly before the Fall of Jerusalem, i.e. about 40 years after the Ascension. The Rabbis had a saying “The days of the Messiah are 40 years.”Hebrews 3:9. Οὗ) viz. πειρασμοῦ, Attic for .—ἐπείρασάν Με, they tempted Me) [to try] whether I was able or willing.—οἱ πατέρες ὑμῶν, your fathers) whose hardness of heart is very often mentioned. Therefore the authority of the ancients is not conclusive.—ἐδοκίμασαν, proved) i.e. searched out, put Me to the test; not approved. Weigh well what follows.—εἶδον, they saw) evidently, but without improvement.—τὰ ἔργα μου, my works) most glorious in affording help, partly also in executing vengeance.—τεσσαρὰκοντα ἔτη, forty years) This is joined with προσώχθισα in the LXX. and in the Hebrew, and below Hebrews 3:17. At the same time the people both saw פעל, work of GOD, and offended GOD, until they filled up the full measure of their guilt. Here it is joined with εἶδον, they saw; and therefore the hard heart of the people is implied.When (οὗ)

Rend. where. See οὗ after ἔρημος wilderness, Deuteronomy 8:15.

Tempted me, proved me (ἐπείρασαν ἐν δοκιμασία)

Lit. tried (me) in proving. The text differs from lxx, which reads ἐπείρασαν, ἐδοκίμασαν tempted, proved, as A.V. The phrase here means tempted by putting to the test. Comp. ἐκπειράζειν to tempt or try with a view to seeing how far one can go. See on 1 Corinthians 10:9.

And saw my works (καὶ εἶδον τὰ ἔργα μου)

Some construe my works with both verbs: tried and saw my works: but it is better to supply me after ἐπείρασαν tempted, to take works with saw only, and to give καὶthe force of and yet (see on Luke 18:7). "They tempted and yet saw my works;" although they saw my works. The Hebrew is "tried me, proved me, yea saw my works."

Forty years

In lxx this is connected with saw my works. In the Hebrew forty years begins the next clause.

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