Hebrews 1 (day 1134) 7 February 2013
The letter to the Hebrews does not read like a letter, but more like a sermon. We don’t know who wrote it; Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Priscilla, Apollos all have their fans. We don’t know to whom it was written or from where it was composed. At some point early on someone penned the title “Letter to the Hebrews” to it, and that is the name that stuck. Perhaps it is called that because it treats the Jewish priesthood with great familiarity. But, none of these questions need burden us. Our task is to understand what it says.
1-4: The introduction is not a greeting but a faith formula, a creed. The “our ancestors” does indicate that the author and intended readers were Jewish Christians. The statement is about the Son, without giving his name (but of course that is not necessary). It lingers on the origin of the Son and on the exaltation of the Son, condensing his earthly ministry, told in all the gospels, into seven words: “When he had made purification for sins…” He is an “exact imprint of God’s very being,” an eloquent way of expressing the incarnation. He is now superior to the angels; but wasn’t he always?
5: Quoting Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14, the author demonstrates a relationship between God and the Son which the angels do not share.
6: This quote is more difficult to place, but is close to Psalm 97:7 except the psalm does not specifically mention angels.
7: Psalm 104:4 bestows upon the angels mighty and mysterious qualities.
8-13: Psalm 45:6-7, clearly a coronation hymn, describes how God has elevated the Son “beyond all your companions.” I am at a bit of a loss to explain why Psalm 102:25-27 is quoted in verses 10-12. Perhaps the idea that the heavens “will all wear out like a garment” is intended to show that the angels are not immortal, but the Son is? And, of course, only the Son, not the angels, are invited to inhabit an exalted position in God’s hierarchy as verse 13 has it, a quote from Psalm 110:1.
14: He asks a rhetorical question, intended to demonstrate that the angels are in service to the followers of the Son, Jesus.
The whole point, then, of verses 5-14 is to prove the superiority of Jesus Christ over the angels.
Hebrews 2 (day 1135) 8 February 2013
1-4: The argument continues: if angels are “in divine service … for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (1:14), then “we must pay greater attention” to their witness. If the angels’ message is valid, and if every sin is punished, and if we don’t heed the message, then we cannot escape punishment. That message was handed down to us from the Lord Jesus “by those who heard him,” (this means that the writer of Hebrews and his readers are second generation Christians) and God punctuated the message by adding miracles etc.
5-9: The coming world referred to here is that world of which the prophets spoke, where everyone will have God’s law written on the heart and sin and death will be no more. That world, he says, will not be under the control of the angels, but under the control of God’s faithful ones. He quotes from Psalm 8 to make the point. The problem is that people obviously aren’t in control. So, the subjection of the world cannot be to human beings. Jesus, however, fits what was said in the psalm; he was made lower than the angels, at least for a time, and suffered, tasting death “for everyone.”
10-13: Jesus, the “pioneer of our salvation,” was thus made perfect through suffering, and his suffering made him a brother to us mortals. He then quotes Psalm 22:22, Isaiah 8:18 and 12:2 show that the Lord was indeed made our brother.
14-18: Being like us and yet conquering the power of death makes Christ, therefore, conqueror of the devil. His act of conquest over death sets free all who feared death, and that means people, not angels. In order to do so he had to become one of us “in every respect,” and that qualified him to serve as the high priest who makes atonement for our sins (this, by the way, is the first time in the Bible Jesus is referred to as the high priest – it will become a major theme of the book). His suffering was a test; therefore he can help all who are tested.
Hebrews 3 (day 1136) 9 February 2013
1-6: Jesus is referred to as “apostle and high priest.” As apostle he was sent (“apostle” means “one who is sent”) to bring to humankind the message of God’s salvation. As high priest he made the sacrifice to atone for our sins. Christ was faithful as was Moses, but Christ is superior to Moses, he argues, because Moses was a servant but Christ is Son. “God’s house” in these verses means God’s heritage – first the people of Israel, then the church.
7-19: He quotes a lot of scripture, primarily from the Psalms. Verses 7-11 paraphrase Psalm 95:7-11, and repeats selected phrases though the rest of the chapter. The author is using these passages to undergird the warning to his readers that they must stay on guard against evil, emphasizing that in the wilderness it was those who were disobedient who were punished.
Hebrews 4 (day 1137) 10 February 2013
1-11: Repeating quotes from the last chapter, the author moves on to focus on the concept of God’s rest, a reference to the new world where God rules supreme, where sin and death are finally and forever vanquished. Since the people under Moses did not enter that new world (because they sinned), God’s “rest” is still out there as a prize to be won – another reason to “make every effort” to remain faithful.
12-13: God sees all. We already knew that, though, did we not?
14-16: Hold fast; approach the throne of grace with boldness to seek mercy and grace because we have a high priest in Jesus who has been through the same trials that we go through.
Hebrews 5 (day 1138) 11 February 2013
1-4: Some points about the high priests who have served in that office since the time of Aaron: 1)the high priest is in charge of offering sacrifices on behalf of the people so that they can be forgiven of their sins; 2) the high priest can deal gently with sinners because he shares their weaknesses; 3) the high priest must offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as for others; 4) the high priest doesn’t select himself (although in Israel’s history that has happened a few times when the high priesthood could be purchased from a foreigner who ruled Israel); 5) the high priest is chosen by God. This last point is the only qualification for becoming a high priest; the other items outline the dutiesafter attaining the office.
5-6: Christ qualifies as high priest because God chose him. (The quote in verse 5 is from Psalm 2:7, but also check John 8:54. The quote in verse 6 is from Psalm 110:4.) He thus satisfies the qualification for becoming the high priest.
7-10: Here are some corresponding points about Jesus: 1) He was designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek (verse 10); 2) he was resurrected from death because of his reverent submission; 3) he learned obedience through suffering; 4) he was made perfect (through his resurrection); and 5) he is the source of salvation for all who obey him.
11-16: None of this should be hard to explain, but it is hard to explain to the readers of this letter (sermon?) because they are not mature in their understanding of the faith. In other words, it is time for them to be weaned from their simplistic ideas and go on to more substantial teachings and concepts.
Hebrews 6 (day 1139) 12 February 2013
1-8: Having told them that they are still living on “milk” and aren’t ready for “solid food,” he now urges them to advance in their understanding. They should now be done with the basic teachings and move on. After all, they have repented. If, having repented, they fall back on their old ways, they are in effect crucifying Christ again and they are lost. I think the author is wrong on this count because I believe one might have to repent more than once and I believe God is always ready to receive a repentant sinner even if he or she is a repeat offender. Burning over a field that produces thorns does not destroy the field but merely readies it for future use.
9-12: The author is certain, though, that his readers aren’t among those who fall away. Their support of “the saints,” meaning the truly holy men and women among them or those who have passed their way, is evidence that they are made of good stuff, he thinks.
13-20: God has given promises of blessings through Abraham and through Jesus. These two “unchangeable things” (verse 18) give us hope for salvation. The author pictures hope as a tangible asset that “enters the inner shrine behind the curtain” where Jesus is the great high priest – our hope is in Jesus, in other words. The imagery of the inner shrine is of course taken from the arrangement of the tabernacle in the wilderness and the later temples in Jerusalem.
Hebrews 7 (day 1140) 13 February 2013
1-3: The story of Melchizedek is found in Genesis 14:17-20. The author of Hebrews makes a lot more of it than is there. The name Melchizedek occurs only twice in the Old Testament (Genesis 14:29 and Psalm 110:4), and eight times in the New Testament, all in Hebrews. Verses 1 and 2 repeat what we already know about Melchizedek; verse 3 adds legendary material. Melchizedek, it was supposed, had no parents since none are mentioned, and neither his birth nor his death is recorded which led to the legend that he was a supernatural priest. The author’s purpose, of course, is to elevate him as high as possible since he wants to make a comparison with Jesus.
4-10: Melchizedek is here shown to be greater also than Abraham because Abraham paid tithes to him; and greater than the entire priesthood of Israel because Levi, ancestor of all the priests, also paid tithes to Melchizedek through Abraham, being “in his loins” – that is, it was imagined that future generations somehow already existed within the body of the ancestor. Not a bad description of DNA, actually.
11-14: If the Levitical priests had been perfect there would have been no need for another priest like Melchizedek. But they weren’t perfect, needless to say, and so God appointed another high priest – Jesus – like Melchizedek, not from Levi but from Judah; in other words, outside the order of human priesthood: outside the law.
15-19: His argument gets a little obscure here, but hispoint is that the law is not able to make anything perfect (having only the power to condemn) and therefore, quoting Psalm 110:4 again, God appointed another high priest like Melchizedek who is the introduction of “a better hope.”
20-22: Jesus’ appointment to the high priesthood was accompanied by God’s oath; an authorization other high priests do not have.
23-25: All the other high priests died, but Christ is high priest forever and is thus available in every generation to grant salvation to all who approach God through him.
26-28: The imperfect law appointed the other high priests who daily have had to offer sacrifices for themselves as well as everybody else; the perfect oath (Psalm 110:4 again), however, appointed Jesus as high priest, and he offered his own body as the sacrifice for everyone’s sins, for all time.
Hebrews 8 (day 1141) 14 February 2013
1-7: What the author seems to have in mind is the very Greek idea that everything has a form on which it is based. The form is the reality of which the thing is a copy. The wilderness tabernacle, he is saying, was based on the form of the heavenly tabernacle – the true tabernacle – where Jesus as the great high priest now sits at the right hand of the “throne of majesty” which, in turn, corresponds to the mercy seat in the old tabernacle. The old wilderness tabernacle was based on the form or pattern of the heavenly one. In the same way the old covenant was based on the law, which is but a “sketch and shadow” of the new and better covenant based on “better promises” – that is, the hope of salvation.
8-13: Verses 8-12 quote Jeremiah 31:31-34 almost verbatim. The old covenant, he says, has been replaced by the new covenant, a covenant in which the heart of every believer will be attuned to the will of God and the law will be obsolete.
Hebrews 9 (day 1142) 15 February 2013
1-5: He describes the first tabernacle recorded in Exodus 40, which by New Testament times was part of Israel’s distant history and he admits that “of these things we cannot speak now in detail.”
6-10: He describes the ministrations of the high priest under the old order. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the high priest offered sacrifices for himself and the whole community, and entered the Most Holy Place in the center of the tabernacle with some of the blood of the sacrifice. Leviticus 16 describes the ceremony. The author’s point is that this ritual was imposed as a stop-gap measure until “the time comes to set things right,” that is, until the sacrifice of the Son of God.
11-14: That was the old form of atonement given to Israel to atone for sins until the new form arrived. The new atonement has Christ entering the true tabernacle, the one “not made with hands,” (see 2 Corinthians 5:1) with the sacrifice of his own blood, a sacrifice sufficient to atone for all sins forever.
15-22: Under the old covenant blood was sprinkled on everything considered holy – the tent, the altar, even the scroll on which the law was written. The basic Jewish belief was that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” The death of Jesus, then, and the shedding of his blood sufficed for the forgiveness of the sins of the whole world, not just Israel. Another way of looking at it is that salvation and eternal life is the will of God for believers. The provisions of a will do not go into effect, however, until the death of the one who made the will. The death of the Son of God completes the requirement.
23-28: Christ offered himself as the sacrifice of atonement – a sacrifice that need only be made once for all – and just as human beings are decreed to die but once and then stand for judgment, so Christ died but once and will appear again to defend his followers (those who are waiting for him) in the judgment, that they may be saved.
Hebrews 10 (day 1143) 16 February 2013
1-10: The author of Hebrews sees the law as merely a precursor of the reign of Christ (the “good things to come”). The law specified the offerings to be made, and the fact that these offerings had to be made over and over again is a demonstration of their limitations. Since they had to be made over and over it is obvious that the “blood of bulls and goats” cannot take away sins for good. He paraphrases Psalm 40:6-8 to show scriptural support for his statement about the inefficacy of the law and how Christ’s coming is the abolishment of the law and the establishment of his reign. This is God’s will, that we be sanctified through the sacrifice of Jesus.
11-18: The offering by Christ of his own body provides the means by which sins are forgiven, once and for all. Paraphrasing Jeremiah 31:33-34 he shows how Christ establishes the new covenant in which God’s law and God’s will is an integral part of those who are sanctified. There is no longer a need for a written law, for it is written “on their hearts.” Through Jeremiah God had declared that their sins would not be remembered, and if sins have been forgiven and forgotten there is no longer a need to sacrifice animals.
19-25: That forgiveness, then, ought to result in certain things; steadfastness in the faith, encouragement of one another in love and good deeds, and “meeting together” regularly to uphold one another in faith and good works.
26-31: Those who persist in wrongdoing are therefore in danger of the judgment. The mention of the “fury of fire” that consumes God’s enemies is often used as evidence that hell is a place of flames, but the author is simply using imagery from the descriptions in the Bible about the burning of sacrifices on the great altar. Since the law of Moses provided for the death penalty if guilt could be established by at least two eye witnesses (see Deuteronomy 17:6), the author thinks it reasonable to expect that denying Christ must surely call for an even worse fate. “Vengeance is mine” is from Deuteronomy 32:35 (the “I will repay” was added at Romans 12:19). “The Lord will judge his people” is perhaps from Psalm 96:13. Given the author’s understanding of how things are to be, it is indeed a fearful thing to fall into God’s hands.
32-39: He reminds them of the time, perhaps not long past, when they were persecuted for their faith and had to endure extreme hardships. They were able to endure it only because of confidence in their faith. Hang in there, he tells them, because the Lord is coming soon (see Habakkuk 2:3).
Hebrews 11 (day 1144) 17 February 2013
1-3: Verse 1 is perhaps the most often quoted verse in Hebrews. The author is undertaking in this chapter to describe faith. It is “the assurance of things hoped for.” It is “the conviction of things not seen.” It is the understanding that God created all things.
4-7: He gives examples of the evidence of faith: Abel’s “more acceptable” offering of the best of his sheep; Enoch’s mysterious disappearance, proof that he had pleased God; Noah’s building of the ark.
8-12: He dwells for some time on Abraham as an example of the faithful life: he left his homeland to go to a strange place at God’s behest; and sired a son in his old age.
13-16: The actions of the patriarchs show that they were looking ahead to the fulfillment of God’s promises. They desired a better home and believed it would be given them. God, in answer, has prepared a city for them – a new world of peace and abundant life.
17-19: Abraham’s faith enabled him to be willing to sacrifice Isaac, trusting that God would still provide.
20-28: Other examples of faith are given, of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph; of Moses’ parents and of Moses himself when he was grown, shunning material wealth because he saw what glory lay ahead. Faith enabled him to stand up to Pharaoh, and faith helped him to trust in the blood of the lamb to protect his people from the angel of death.
29-31: Faith enabled the people to pass through the sea with water piled up on either side of them. Faith caused the walls of Jericho to collapse. Faith caused Rahab to harbor the spies Joshua sent into Jericho.
32-38: Quickly he “calls the roll” of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets and others, and lists all the suffering they endured.
39-40: He makes a surprising statement here, that none of them received the promised reward. Instead, they were waiting- along with the readers of this letter/sermon – for the institution of the reign of Christ and the perfection of his followers.
Hebrews 12 (day 1145) 18 February 2013
1-2: The author encourages his readers to keep the faith as did the saints of old. He tells them to “run the race with perseverance,” a very Pauline-like phrase (compare 1 Corinthians 9:24), but “cloud of witnesses” is unique to Hebrews, as is the designation of Christ as the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
3-11: Although there have been persecutions, he assures them they have not yet suffered nearly as much as Christ suffered on their behalf. They should consider their hardships as the Lord’s discipline, and, quoting Proverbs 3:11-12, tells them to keep in mind that the Lord disciplines those he loves. He launches into a praise of discipline, comparing the Lord’s discipline to that of earthly parents. It seems painful while you’re going through it, he says, but you’ll be all the better for it.
12-13: These verses contain a rather curious saying. Perhaps we can paraphrase it thus: “Stand up straight and walk with a steady gait. So you made a few mistakes, but don’t let it get you down. You may be sore, but you’ll get well.”
14-17: Some practical advice follows: pursue peace, pursue holiness, help others to experience God’s grace and don’t let bitterness fester. And by all means, hang onto your faith; once you let it go it’s hard to get it back.
18-24: Now he provides a contrast between the old covenant and the new. The old covenant of the law emphasized the terror of being confronted by God. He describes the Hebrew people gathered at the foot of Mt. Sinai which glowed with fire (Deuteronomy 4:11). The people, even their animals, could not touch the mountain upon pain of death (Exodus 19:12-13). God is all mystery and terror. The new covenant, however, emphasizes the communion the faithful will have with God in the new Mt. Zion, the new Jerusalem. He pictures the faithful being greeted by the angels and by the faithful who have gone before. He sees them before God the judge and the “spirits of the righteous made perfect” (there was an early belief that a certain number of the saints would attain a position of holiness that allowed them to gather around God – see Revelation 14:1-5 for a fuller description) and, finally, Jesus himself, the one who established this new covenant. The blood of Jesus is seen as kind of counter to the blood spilled by Abel at the hands of his angry brother, Cain (Genesis 4:8).
25-29: The new world of the new covenant is an eternal world that cannot be shaken or destroyed. The old world of the old covenant, however, will be shaken (the quote is from Haggai 2:6-7) and will not remain.
Hebrews 13 (day 1146) 19 February 2013
1-6: The author suddenly turns from the future scene around Mt. Zion to address the present community of faith. Continue to love one another, he says, and let love also guide your actions toward strangers and prisoners. Fidelity in marriage is again upheld as a primary rule for the protection of the coherence of the faith community. Likewise frugality is named as an important virtue in the faith community because desire for wealth is paramount to a lack of faith in God’s power to care for them – there are several places in the Old Testament which have God declaring, “I will never fail you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; Joshua 1:5, 1 Chronicles 28:20). Verse 6 is from Psalm 118:6.
7-16: He encourages them to follow the faith of the ones who declared the gospel message to them. That message is constant; it doesn’t change. He tells them not to pay attention to those who insist on dietary restrictions. (We suspect that the letter was written near the end of the first century; it is surprising to find that there is still concern for those who were trying to convince new Christians to obey the Jewish dietary laws.) Again he draws a comparison between the sacrifices offered under the old law and the sacrifice offered by Christ of his own body and blood; just as the old animal sacrifices called for the remains to be burned outside of camp, so Jesus was buried outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 70 a.d., so Christians are encouraged to “go outside the camp,” that is, to leave the fold of Judaism and offer “sacrifices of praise” – in other words, preach the gospel.
17: For good order in the church he entreats his readers to obey their leaders so that they will be a source of joy to them.
18-19: He asks them to pray for him, and intimates that he is being held against his will and plans to visit them soon. This sounds like one of Paul’s letters, but most of Hebrews does not read at all like one of Paul’s letters.
20-21: This is a particularly beautiful benediction, unique in the Bible.
22-24: The mention of Timothy and Italy remind us of Paul’s letters as well. There is much speculation that (since the previous verses constitute a closing) these verses were added later in order make it look as though Paul were the author. The bulk of the evidence, however, seems to indicate that someone else wrote Hebrews.