Hebrews 5:2
Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(2) Who can have compassion.—Rather, as one who can deal gently with (or, more strictly, feel gently towards) the ignorant and erring, because . . . Either apathy or undue severity in regard to transgression would disqualify this representative of men to God. It cannot be said that sin is mildly designated here, since the words so closely resemble those which occur in Hebrews 3:10; still the language is so chosen as to exclude sinning “with a high hand.”

Hebrews 5:2-3. Who can have compassion — The word μετριοπαθειν, here used, signifies to feel compassion in proportion to the misery of others. The apostle’s words imply that a high-priest, who is not touched with a feeling of the weaknesses and miseries of others, is unfit to officiate for them, because he will be apt to neglect them in his ministrations, or be thought by the people in danger of so doing. On the ignorant — Who, not being properly instructed in divine things, are involved in error with respect to them; and on them that are out of the way — Of truth and duty, of wisdom, holiness, and happiness; or who, through their ignorance or any other cause, fall into sin: so that all sins and sinners are here comprehended. For that he himself is compassed with infirmity — So that under a consciousness thereof, he will officiate for them with the greater kindness and assiduity, knowing that he needs the compassion which he shows to others. And by reason hereof — Because he himself is a sinner; he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, (see the margin,) to offer for sins — That, being pardoned himself, and in a state of reconciliation and peace with God, he may offer for others with more acceptance. We are not to infer from this that Christ had any sins of his own to offer for, or that he offered any sacrifice for himself, it being repeatedly affirmed by the apostles that he was absolutely free from all sin.5:1-10 The High Priest must be a man, a partaker of our nature. This shows that man had sinned. For God would not suffer sinful man to come to him alone. But every one is welcome to God, that comes to him by this High Priest; and as we value acceptance with God, and pardon, we must apply by faith to this our great High Priest Christ Jesus, who can intercede for those that are out of the way of truth, duty, and happiness; one who has tenderness to lead them back from the by-paths of error, sin, and misery. Those only can expect assistance from God, and acceptance with him, and his presence and blessing on them and their services, that are called of God. This is applied to Christ. In the days of his flesh, Christ made himself subject to death: he hungered: he was a tempted, suffering, dying Jesus. Christ set an example, not only to pray, but to be fervent in prayer. How many dry prayers, how few wetted with tears, do we offer up to God! He was strengthened to support the immense weight of suffering laid upon him. There is no real deliverance from death but to be carried through it. He was raised and exalted, and to him was given the power of saving all sinners to the uttermost, who come unto God through him. Christ has left us an example that we should learn humble obedience to the will of God, by all our afflictions. We need affliction, to teach us submission. His obedience in our nature encourages our attempts to obey, and for us to expect support and comfort under all the temptations and sufferings to which we are exposed. Being made perfect for this great work, he is become the Author of eternal salvation to all that obey him. But are we of that number?Who can have compassion - Margin, "Reasonably bear with." The idea is that of "sympathizing with." The high priest is taken from among men, in order that he may have a fellow-feeling for those on whose behalf he officiates. Sensible of his own ignorance, he is able to sympathize with those who are ignorant; and compassed about with infirmity, he is able to succour those who have like infirmities.

And on them that are out of the way - The erring, and the guilty. If he were taken from an order of beings superior to people, be would be less qualified to sympathize with those who felt that they were sinners, and who needed pardon.

For that he himself also is compassed with infirmity - see chap. Hebrews 7:28. He is liable to err; He is subject to temptation; he must die, and appear before God - and encompassed with these infirmities, he is better qualified to minister in behalf of guilty and dying people. For the same reason it is, that the ministers of the gospel are chosen from among people. They are of like passions with others. They are sinners; they are dying men. They can enter into the feelings of those who are conscious of guilt; they can sympathize with those who tremble in dread of death; they can partake of the emotions of those who expect soon to appear before God.

2. Who can—Greek, "being able"; not pleasing himself (Ro 15:3).

have compassion—Greek, "estimate mildly," "feel leniently," or "moderately towards"; "to make allowance for"; not showing stern rigor save to the obstinate (Heb 10:28).

ignorant—sins not committed in resistance of light and knowledge, but as Paul's past sin (1Ti 1:13). No sacrifice was appointed for wilful sin committed with a high hand; for such were to be punished with death; all other sins, namely, ignorances and errors, were confessed and expiated with sacrifices by the high priest.

out of the way—not deliberately and altogether wilfully erring, but deluded through the fraud of Satan and their own carnal frailty and thoughtlessness.

infirmity—moral weakness which is sinful, and makes men capable of sin, and so requires to be expiated by sacrifices. This kind of "infirmity" Christ had not; He had the "infirmity" of body whereby He was capable of suffering and death.

Who can have compassion on the ignorant: the melting quality of the typical high priest is eminently to be fulfilled in the gospel one; each is to have an aptness, disposition, and a sufficiency of it, by the institution of God, for his ministrations, for manner as well as for matter, Hebrews 2:18 4:15. Metriopayein, strictly, is to bear, suffer, or be affected in measure, or suffer moderately, with the failings of others, in such a degree as is necessary to incline, as far as he is able, to succour, help, and comfort those who are in misery. It notes sympathy, Hebrews 2:18 Romans 12:15; and a suffering with them, yet so regulated by the Divine rule, as not to extend it unto unfit subjects, nor in an undue measure, lest it unfits him for ministerting for them. But the great High Priest excelleth in this, and is not bound to our measures, but sinlessly overabounds in it, to such as sin for want of knowledge of their duty, unwittingly, and without any forecast, for which the law provided a sacrifice, Leviticus 4:2 Numbers 15:24-29.

And on them that are out of the way; planwmenoiv a metaphor borrowed from travellers gone out of their way; by which are understood such sinners as are misled by infirmity or violence of temptation, and so offend God by their opinions or practices; for the expiation of such were those sacrifices appointed, Leviticus 5:6,7; but then they were such as were sensible of their sins, confessed them, and begged for pardon, of whom the High Priest was to be compassionate; but not of presumptuous and capital sinners, who were unfit subjects of God’s mercy or man’s: there being no sacrifices provided for such, but they were to die without mercy, Numbers 15:30,31; compare Exodus 22:14. God’s altar itself is no protection to them, 1 Kings 2:28,31. Such sins of infirmity which the Levitical high priest was liable to himself, was he to be compassionate of.

For that he himself also is compassed with infirmity; for that he was beset with infirmity, sin, ignorance, error, and disobedience; infirm in respect of duty and sacrifice, which was by reason of its weakness to be repeated yearly, Hebrews 10:1,11; and of the same infirm nature, liable to the griefs and miseries of his brethren both in soul and body. All these did surround and lie about him; he was sin and weakness all over, and therefore should be the more feeling of his brethren’s states, and more careful and ready to sacrifice and intercede for himself and them. But our great High Priest hath all the sense of these, but no sin, Hebrews 4:15. Who can have compassion on the ignorant,.... Who have committed sins of ignorance, and bring their sacrifices for them; these he does not insult and upbraid, nor break out into anger and indignation against; but pities them, and sympathizes with them; has a just measure of compassion suitable to their condition, and bears with them with great moderation and temper:

and on them that are out of the way; of God's commandments; who are like sheep going astray, and turn to their own way; who transgress the law of God, and err from it; perhaps such who sin knowingly and wilfully, and through infirmity, are meant:

for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity; not of body only, but of mind, sinful infirmity; he had much of it, it beset him all around; he was "clothed" with it, as the Syriac version renders it; as Joshua the high priest was with filthy garments, Zechariah 3:3.

Who {c} can have compassion on the ignorant, and {d} on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is {e} compassed with infirmity.

(c) Fit and meet.

(d) On them that are sinful: for in the Hebrew tongue, under ignorance and error is every sin meant, even that sin that is voluntary.

(e) He carries with him a nature subject to the same inconveniences and vices.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Hebrews 5:2. μετριοπαθεῖν δυνάμενος: “as one who is able to moderate his feeling”. The Vulgate is too strong: “qui condolere possit”; Grotius has: “non inclementer affici”; Weizsäcker: “als der billig fühlen kann”; and Peirce: “who can reasonably bear with”. As the etymology shows, it means “to be moderate in one’s passions”. It was opposed by Aristotle to the ἀπάθεια of the Stoics. [Diog. Laert., Arist.: ἔφη δὲ τὸν σοφὸν μὴ εἶναι μὲν ἀπαθῆ μετριοπαθῆ δέ: not without feeling, but feeling in moderation; and Peirce, Tholuck, and Weiss conclude that the word was first formed by the Peripatetics; Tholuck expressly; and Weiss, “stammt aus dem philosophischen Sprachge-brauch”. Cf. the chapter of Philo (Leg. Allegor., iii., 45; Wendland’s ed., vol. i. 142) in which he puts ἀπάθεια first and μετριοπάθ. second; and to the numerous exx. cited by Wetstein and Kypke, add Nemesius, De Natura Hominis, cxix., where the word is defined in relation to grief. Josephus (Ant., xii. 3, 2) remarks upon the striking self-restraint and moderation (μετριοπαθησάντων) of Vespasian and Titus towards the Jews notwithstanding their many conflicts.] If the priest is cordially to plead with God for the sinner, he must bridle his natural disgust at the loathsomeness of sensuality, his impatience at the frequently recurring fall, his hopeless alienation from the hypocrite and the superficial, his indignation at any confession he hears from the penitent. This self-repression he must exercise τοῖς ἀγνοοῦσι καὶ πλανωμένοις: “the ignorant and erring”. The single article leads Peirce and others to render as a Hendiadys = τοῖς ἐξ ἀγνοίας πλαν., those who err through ignorance. ἄγνοια is not frequent in LXX, but in Ezekiel 42:13, and also in chaps. 44 and 46, it translates אָשָׁם, but in Leviticus 5:18 and in Ecclesiastes 5:5 it translates שְׁגָגָה which in Leviticus 4:2 and elsewhere is rendered by ἀκουσίως. A comparison too of the passages in which the word occurs seems to show that by “sins of ignorance” are meant both sins committed unawares or accidentally, and sins into which a man is betrayed by passion. They are opposed to presumptuous sins, sins with a high hand ἐν χειρὶ ὑπερηφανίας, בְידָ רָמָה (Numbers 15:30), sins which constitute a renunciation of God and for which there is no sacrifice, cf. Hebrews 10:26. ἐπεὶ καὶ αὐτὸς περίκειται ἀσθένειαν: “since he himself also is compassed with infirmity,” giving the reason or ground of μετριοπ. δυνάμενος. περίκειμαι, “I lie round,” as in Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2 with περί and in Hebrews 12:1 with dative. In Acts 28:20, τὴν ἅλυσιν ταύτην περίκειμαι, it is used passively as here, followed by an accusative according to the rule that verbs which in the active govern a dative of the person with an accusative of the thing, retain the latter in the passive. See Winer, p. 287, and Rutherford’s Babrius. The priests, living for the greater part of the year in their own homes, were known to have their weaknesses like other men, and even the high priests were not exempt from the common passions. Their gorgeous robes alone separated them from sinners, but like a garment infirmity clung around them. “How the very sanctity of his office would force on the attention of one who was not a mere puppet priest the contrast between his official and his personal character, as a subject of solemn reflection” (Bruce).2. have compassion on] Rather, “deal gently with” The word metriopathein means properly “to shew moderate emotions.” All men are liable to emotions and passions (pathç). The Stoics held that these should be absolutely crushed and that “apathy” (ἀπάθεια) was the only fit condition for a Philosopher. The Peripatetics on the other hand—the school of Aristotle—held that the philosopher should not aim at apathy, because no man can be absolutely passionless without doing extreme violence to nature; but that he should acquire metriopathy that is a spirit of “moderated emotion” and self-control. The word is found both in Philo and Josephus. In common usage it meant “moderate compassion;” since the Stoics held “pity” to be not only a weakness but a vice. The Stoic apatheia would have utterly disqualified any one for true Priesthood. Our Lord yielded to human emotions such as pity, sorrow, and just anger; and that He did so and could do so, “yet without sin,” is expressly recorded for our instruction.

on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way] Highhanded sinners, willing sinners, those who, in the Hebrew phrase, sin “with upraised hand” (Numbers 15:30; Deuteronomy 17:12), cannot always be treated with compassionate tenderness (Hebrews 10:26); but the ignorant and the erring (1 Timothy 1:13)—those who sin “inadvertently,” “involuntarily” (Leviticus 4:2; Leviticus 4:13, &c.)—and even those who under sudden stress of passion and temptation sin wilfully—need pity (Leviticus 5:1; Leviticus 19:20-22), and Christ’s prayer on the cross was for those “who know not what they do.” No untempted Angel, no Being removed from the possibility of such falls, could have had the personal sympathy which is an indispensable requisite for perfect Priesthood.

is compassed with infirmity] Moral weakness is part of the very nature which, he wears, and which makes him bear reasonably with those who are like himself. The same Greek phrase (perikeimai with an accusative) occurs in Acts 28:20 (“I am bound with this chain”), “Under the gorgeous robes of office there were still the galling chains of flesh.” Kay.Hebrews 5:2. Μετριοπαθεῖν, To have a feeling of moderation [have compassion]) Hesychius, μετριοπαθὴς μικρὰ πάσχων ἢ συγγινώσκων ἐπιεικῶς. Τὸ μέτρον, moderation is opposed to severity and rigour, which are shown towards none but the obstinate; ch. Hebrews 10:28.—δυνάμενος, who is able) who does not please Himself; comp. Romans 15:3.—ἀγνοοῦσι καὶ πλανωμένοις, to the ignorant and them that are out of the way [in error]) those that sin through ignorance and error: שגה, LXX., ἀγνοεῖν, to be ignorant. Simple ignorance is merely want of attention and memory; but error (being out of the way) interchanges [confounds] good and evil, truth and falsehood.—ἀσθενείαν, infirmity) which is sinful and to be expiated by sacrifices.Verse 2. - Who can have compassion on the ignorant and erring; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. It is not easy to find a satisfactory English equivalent for μετριοπαθεῖν, translated as above in the A.V.; by Alford, "be compassionate towards;" in the margin of the A.V., "reasonably bear with;" by the recent Revisers, "bear gently with;" by Bengel, "moderate affici." The compound had its origin, doubtless, in the peripatetic school, denoting the right mean between passionateness and Stoic apathy, being the application of Aristotle's μεσότης to the sphere of the passions. Thus Diog. Laert. says of Aristotle, Αφη δε τον σοφον μη ειναι μεν απαθη μετριοπαθῆ δὲ. In this sense Philo uses μετριοπαθὴς to express Abraham's sober grief after the death of Sarah (2:37) and Jacob's patience under his afflictions (2:45). The verb, followed, as here, by a dative of persons, may be taken, therefore, to denote moderation of feeling towards the persons indicated, such moderation being especially opposed in the case before us, where the persons are the ignorant and erring, to excess of severe or indignant feeling. Moderation, indeed, in this regard seems to have been the idea generally attached to the compound (cf. Plut., 'De Ira Cohib.' p. 453, Ἀναστὴσαι καὶ σῶσαι καὶ φεισάσθαι καὶ καρτερῆσαι πραότητος ἐστὶ καὶ συγγνώμης καὶ μετριοπαθείας). Josephus also speaks of the emperors Vespasian and Titus as μετριοπαθησάντων in their attitude towards the Jews after long hostility ('Ant.,' 12:3 2). This, then, being the meaning of μετριοπαθεία, it is obvious how the capacity of it is essential to the idea of a high priest as being one who is resorted to as a mediator by a people laden with infirmities, to represent them and to plead for them. It is not of necessity implied that every high priest was personally νετριοπάθης: it is the ideal of his office that is spoken cf. And, in the case of human high priests, this ideal was fulfilled by their being themselves human, encompassed themselves with the infirmity of those for whom they mediated. Christ also, so far, evidently fulfils the condition. For, though he is afterwards distinguished (Hebrews 7:28) from priests having themselves infirmity, yet he had, in his human nature, experienced what it was: "He was crucified ἐξ ἀσθενείας (2 Corinthians 13:4); "Himself took our infirmities (ἀσθενείας), and bare our sicknesses" (Matthew 8:17; Isaiah 53:4); the agony in the garden (whatever its mysterious import, of which more below)expressed personal experience of human ἀσθενεία. Alford denies that ἀσθενεία, in the sense supposed by him to be here intended, can be attributed to Christ, and hence that περίκειται ἀσθένειαις can apply to him (but see above on Hebrews 4:15, and below on vers. 3, 7). Have compassion (μετιοπαθεῖν)

N.T.o. olxx. oClass. Originally of the rational regulation of the natural passions, as opposed to the Stoic ἀπάθεια, which involved the crushing out of the passions. Often, in later Greek, of moderating anger. It is not identical with συνπαθῆσαι (Hebrews 4:5), but signifies to be moderate or tender in judgment toward another's errors. Here it denotes a state of feeling toward the ignorant and erring which is neither too severe nor too tolerant. The high priest must not be betrayed into irritation at sin and ignorance, neither must he be weakly indulgent.

The ignorant (τοῖς ἀγνοοῦσι)

Comp. ἀγνοημάτων ignorances, Hebrews 9:7, and Numbers 15:22-31, where the distinction is drawn between sins of ignorance and sins of presumption. Atonement for sins of ignorance was required by the Levitical law as a means of educating the moral perception, and of showing that sin and defilement might exist unsuspected: that God saw evil where men did not, and that his test of purity was stricter than theirs.

For that he himself also is compassed with infirmity (ἐπεὶ καὶ αὐτὸς περίκειται ἀσθένειαν)

Sympathy belongs to the high-priestly office, and grows out of the sense of personal infirmity. The verb is graphic: has infirmity lying round him. Comp. Hebrews 12:1, of the encompassing (περικείμενον) cloud of witnesses. Ἀσθένειαν the moral weakness which makes men capable of sin. This is denied in the case of Christ. See Hebrews 7:28.

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