Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The latter part of the ninth chapter was an expansion of Hebrews 10:11-12. In particular, Hebrews 10:23-28 have been occupied with the theme, “Christ entered once for all into the Holy Place, having won eternal redemption.” The repeated offerings presented by the high priests have been contrasted with the sacrifice which He has offered. To this thought the opening verses of this chapter attach themselves, explaining more fully the inefficacy of the one, the power and virtue of the other. Gradually the main thoughts of the preceding chapters are gathered up, and the last and chief division of the argument of the Epistle is brought to a close in Hebrews 10:18.
For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.(1) A Shadow of good things to come.—These words have already come before us; the “shadow” in Hebrews 8:5, and “the good things to come” in the ordinary reading of Hebrews 9:11.
Not the very image.—The antithesis is hardly what we should have expected. The word “image” is indeed consistent with the very closest and most perfect likeness; but why is the contrast to “shadow” expressed by a word which cannot denote more than likeness, and not by a reference to the things themselves? The answer would seem to be that, from the very nature of the “good things to come,” the law could not be conceived of as having the things themselves; but had it possessed “the very image” of them, a representation so perfect might have been found to bring with it equal efficacy.
Can never with those sacrifices.—It is difficult to ascertain the exact Greek text in the latter half of this verse. With the ordinary reading the general construction of the sentence is that which the Authorised version represents, “For the law . . . can never . . . make perfect.” The better MSS., however, read “they can,” a change which introduces some irregularity of construction: the pronoun “they” must probably in this case be understood of the priests. The order of the Greek is also very peculiar. Two translations of the verse (with the changed reading) may be given: (1) “They can never with the same sacrifices year by year which they offer continually make them that draw nigh perfect.” (2) “They can never year by year, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually, make them that draw nigh perfect.” The difference between the two renderings will be easily seen. The former makes the whole sentence to relate to the annual sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, and gives to “continually” almost the same meaning as “year by year.” The meaning of the latter is that by the annual sacrifices, which are the same as those which the priests are offering for the people day by day (for the sacrifice of the Day of Atonement did not in itself differ from the ordinary sin offering), they cannot make the worshippers perfect. The latter translation agrees best with the original, and conveys a very striking thought. It is open, however, to a very serious objection—that it separates the verse into two incongruous parts. That annual sacrifices not different in kind from the sin offerings which were presented day by day (and which the very institution of the Day of Atonement declared to be imperfect) could not bring to the worshippers what they needed, is an important argument; but it has no connection with the first words of the verse. Hence, though the Greek does not very readily yield the former translation, it is probably to be preferred. With the expression “them that draw nigh” or “approach” (to God) comp. Hebrews 7:26, where the same word is used. On “make perfect” see Hebrews 7:11; Hebrews 9:9.
For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.(2) For then.—Better, otherwise. The very repetition of the annual ceremonial was a testimony to its imperfection. The idea of repetition has been very strikingly brought out in Hebrews 10:1.
Once purged.—Better, because the worshippers, having been once cleansed, would have no more consciousness of sins. “Worshippers,” not the same word as in Hebrews 10:1, but similarly used in Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 12:28 (Philippians 3:3, et al.): in Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 13:10, it is applied to priestly service.
But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.(3) There is a remembrance.—Better, a remembrance of sins is made year by year. In each of the three prayers of the high priest (see Hebrews 5:3) for himself and his house, for the priesthood, for the people, he made special acknowledgment of sin. “I have sinned, I and my house and the sons of Aaron: Thy people have done perversely.”
For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.(4) This verse explains those which precede. No inconsistency really belonged to these sacrifices and this ceremonial, though so often repeated; for it was impossible that any such sacrifice should really remove sin. The offering was necessary, and it answered its purpose; but it could not remove the necessity for another and a better offering.
Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:(5) Wherefore.—That is, on account of this powerlessness of the sacrifices of the law.
He saith.—Christ, in the prophetic word of Scripture. Though not directly mentioned here, He has been the subject of the whole context (Hebrews 9:25-28). The words which follow are a quotation from Psalm 40:6-8, and agree substantially with the LXX., except that in Hebrews 10:7 a word of some importance is omitted (see the Note there). The LXX., again, is on the whole a faithful representation of the Hebrew text: one clause only (the last in this verse) presents difficulty. Particular expressions will be noticed as they occur: the general meaning and application of the psalm must first receive attention. Like Ps. 1. and 51 (with some verses of Psalms 69), Psalms 40 is remarkable for its anticipation of the teaching of the prophets (Isaiah 1:11-17; Jeremiah 7:21; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8; et al.) on one point, the inferior worth of ceremonial observances when contrasted with moral duties. It seems probable that the psalm is David’s, as the inscription relates, and that its key-note is to be found in the words of Samuel to Saul (1Samuel 15:22): “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying (literally, hearkening to) the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey (literally, to hear) is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” The first part of the psalm is an expression of thanksgiving to God for deliverance from peril. David has learned the true mode of displaying gratitude, not by offerings of slain animals, but by the sacrifice of the will. So far does the latter excel the former, so truly is the sacrifice of will in accordance with the will of God, that the value of the legal offerings is in comparison as nothing. There is in all this no real slighting of the sacrificial ritual (see Jeremiah 7:21-28), but there is a profound appreciation of the superiority of spiritual service to mere ritual observance. It can hardly be said that this quotation rests on the same principle as those of the first chapter. The psalm is certainly not Messianic, in the sense of being wholly predictive like Psalms 110, or directly typical like Psalms 2. In some respects, indeed, it resembles 2 Samuel 7 (See the Note on Hebrews 1:5.) As there, after words which are quoted in this Epistle in reference to Christ, we read of David’s son as committing iniquity and receiving punishment; so in this psalm we read, “Mine iniquities are more than the hairs of mine head.” David comes with a new perception of the true will of God, to offer Him the service in which He takes pleasure. And yet not so—for such service as he can offer is itself defective; his sins surround him yet in their results and penalties. Hence, in his understanding and his offering of himself he is a type, whilst his sinfulness and weakness render him but an imperfect type, of Him that was to come. Such passages as these constitute a distinct and very interesting division of Messianic prophecy. We may then thus trace the principle on which the psalm is here applied. Jesus came to His Father with that perfect offering of will and self which was foreshadowed in the best impulses of the best of the men of God, whose inspired utterances the Scriptures record. The words of David, but partially true of himself, are fulfilled in the Son of David. Since, then, these words describe the purpose of the Saviour’s life, we can have no difficulty in understanding the introductory words, “when He cometh into the world, He saith;” or the seventh verse, where we read, “Lo, I am come to do Thy will.” When David saw the true meaning of the law, he thus came before God; the purpose of Jesus, when He received the body which was the necessary instrument for human obedience, finds its full expression in these words.
Sacrifice and offering.—The corresponding Hebrew words denote the two divisions of offerings, as made with or without the shedding of blood.
But a body hast thou prepared me.—Rather, but a body didst Thou prepare for me. Few discrepancies between the LXX. and the Hebrew have attracted more notice than that which these words present. The words of the Psalmist are, “In sacrifice and offering Thou hast not delighted: ears hast Thou digged for me.” As in Samuel’s words, already referred to as containing the germ of the psalm, sacrifice is contrasted with hearing and with hearkening to the voice of the Lord, the meaning evidently is, Thou hast given me the power of hearing so as to obey. A channel of communication has been opened, through which the knowledge of God’s true will can reach the heart, and excite the desire to obey. All ancient Greek versions except the LXX. more or less clearly express the literal meaning. It has been supposed that the translators of the LXX. had before them a different reading of the Hebrew text, preferable to that which is found in our present copies. This is very unlikely. Considering the general principles of their translation, we may with greater probability suppose that they designed merely to express the general meaning, avoiding a literal rendering of a Hebrew metaphor which seemed harsh and abrupt. They seem to have understood the Psalmist as acknowledging that God had given him that which would produce obedience; and to this (they thought) would correspond the preparation of a body which might be the instrument of rendering willing service. If the present context be carefully examined, we shall see that, though the writer does afterwards make reference (Hebrews 10:10) to the new words here introduced, they are in no way necessary to his argument, nor does he lay on them any stress.
In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.(6) Burnt offerings.—Better, whole burnt offerings. These (which were the symbol of complete consecration) are not mentioned in this Epistle, except in this verse and Hebrews 10:8.
Thou hast had no pleasure.—Better (for conformity with the preceding clauses), Thou hadst no pleasure.
Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.(7) Lo, I come.—Rather, Lo, I am come—I am here. The original meaning of the following words is not quite certain. The Hebrew admits of two renderings. (1) Then I said, Lo, I am come! in the roll of the Book it is prescribed unto me; (2) Then I said, Lo, I am come with the roll of the Book that is written concerning me. The “roll of the Book” is the roll containing the Divine Law. The next clause is quite distinct in construction: “I delight to do Thy will, O God; yea, Thy law is within my heart.” The omission of the words “I delight,” alters the connection of the words; but it will be seen that, though the Hebrew verses are condensed, their meaning is exactly preserved.
Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law;(8) Above when he said.—Better, Whereas he saith above; or, as we might express it, “Saying at the outset,” “Setting out with saying.” In the following words the best MSS. have the plural, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and (sacrifices) for sin.” The change from singular to plural is in harmony with the thought of Hebrews 10:1-4, the repetition of sacrifices.
Which are offered by the law.—Rather, such as are offered according to law. The change from “the law” to “law” seems intentional, as if the writer had in thought the contrast between any external law of ritual and a principle of inward obedience.
Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.(9) Then said he, Lo, I come.—Rather, then hath he said, Lo, I am come to do Thy will. The words “O God” are not in the true text, but have been accidentally repeated from Hebrews 10:7.
He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.—It is important to inquire how this is done, first in the case of the writer of the psalm, then as the words are used of Jesus. David, perceiving that that which God seeks is the subjection of man’s will, refuses to rest in the sacrifices of the law. No one will think that burnt offering or gift or sacrifice for sin was henceforth at an end for him: the confession of his iniquities (Hebrews 10:12) implied a recourse to the appointed means of approach to God: even the sacrifices themselves were taken up into the service of obedience. But to the symbols shall be added the consecration and the sacrifice of praise (Psalm 50:23) which they typified. The application to the Saviour must be interpreted by this context. In making these words His own, He declares the sacrifices of the law to be in themselves without virtue; Jehovah seeks them not from Him, but, having prepared a human body for Him, seeks only the fulfilment of His will. But included in that will of God was Christ’s offering of Himself for the world; and, on the other hand, it was His perfect surrender of Himself that gave completeness to that offering. His death was at once the antitype of the sacrifice for sin and the consummation of the words, “I am come to do Thy will, O God.” Hence, in saying, “Lo, I am come to do Thy will” (that which God has really willed), He taketh away the sacrifices of slain animals that He may establish the doing of God’s will. That such sacrifices as were formerly offered are no longer according to God’s pleasure follows as an inference from this.
By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.(10) By the which will we are sanctified.—Better, In which will we have been sanctified. In the last verse we read of that which Jesus established—the doing of the will of God. He did that will when He offered the sacrifice of His perfect obedience—“obedience as far as death” (Philippians 2:8). In this will of God which He accomplished lies our sanctification, effected “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” In Hebrews 9:14 the efficacy of the blood of Christ to cleanse the conscience is contrasted with the power of the offerings of the law to “sanctify in regard to cleanness of the flesh:” here the real sanctification is joined with “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ.” In the word “body” lies a reference to Hebrews 10:8, where the body is looked on as the instrument of obedient service (comp. Romans 12:1); but the word “offering” still preserves its sacrificial character, and contains an allusion to the presentation of the body of the slain victim. (Comp. Hebrews 13:11). As this offering has been presented “once for all” (Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 9:12), so “once for all” has the work of sanctification been achieved.
And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:(11) The last was a verse of transition. Naturally following from and completing the previous argument, it leads in the words “once for all” to a new thought, or rather prepares the way for the resumption of a subject to which in an earlier chapter marked prominence was given. If the sanctifying work of the true High Priest has been accomplished “once for all,” such ministry remains for Him no longer (Hebrews 10:12-14). Here, then, the writer brings us back to Hebrews 8:1-2—to that which he there declared to be the crowning point of all his words.
And every priest.—Some ancient MSS. and versions read “high priest,” but the ordinary text is in all probability correct. (With the other reading the work of the priests in their daily ministrations is ascribed to the high priest, whose representatives they were.) Hitherto the thought has rested almost entirely on the ceremonial of the Day of Atonement; there is therefore new significance in the contrast between Jesus and “every priest” in all His ministrations. On “standeth” see the Note on Hebrews 8:1. The accumulation of words which point to the ceaseless repetition of the offerings of the law (Hebrews 10:1) is very noteworthy. The last words point to Hebrews 10:4.
But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;(12) But this man.—Rather, but He. In the main this verse is a combination of Hebrews 7:27 (Hebrews 9:26) and Hebrews 8:1. One addition is made, in the words, “for ever.” These words (which occur in three other places, Hebrews 7:3; Hebrews 10:1; Hebrews 10:14) are by many joined with what precedes, by others with the latter part of the sentence, “it down on the right hand of God.” The different editions of our Bible and Prayer Book (Epistle for Good Friday) are divided, some (including the earliest) having a comma at the word “ever,” others at “sins.” In most of our earlier English versions the construction adopted was shown by the arrangement of the words. Thus Tyndale has, “sat him down for ever;” and the Bishops’ Bible, “is set down for ever.” Coverdale (following Luther) is very clear on the other side: “when He had offered for sins one sacrifice which is of value for ever.” Most modern commentators seem to adopt the latter view (“for ever sat down”), but hardly, perhaps, with sufficient reason. The analogy of Hebrews 10:14 is distinctly on the other side; and the Greek phrase rendered “for ever” is more suitably applied to the offering of a sacrifice than to the thought of the following words. The contrast to Hebrews 10:11 is strongly marked. The sacrificial work has been performed, and the High Priest no longer “standeth ministering.” The words “sat down” (Psalm 110:1) add to the priestly imagery that of kingly state.
From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.(13) Expecting.—This word belongs to the contrast just mentioned. He does not minister and offer His sacrifice again, but waits for the promised subjection of His foes. Once before in this context (Hebrews 9:28) our thought has been thus directed to the future consummation. There it consists in the second coming of Christ for the salvation of “them that wait for Him;” here it is He Himself who is “waiting,” and the end is the attainment of supreme dominion. (See Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 1:13.)
For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.(14) No repetition of His offering is needed, for by one offering He hath brought all unto “perfection,” and that “for ever.” In Hebrews 7:11 we have read that “perfection” did not come through the Levitical priesthood or through the law (Hebrews 10:19); the object of man’s hopes and of all priestly service has at last been attained, since through the “great High Priest” “we draw nigh to God” (Hebrews 7:19). In this is involved salvation to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25). The last word of this verse has occurred before, in Hebrews 2:11. As was there explained, it literally means those who are being sanctified, all those who, from age to age, through faith (Hebrews 10:22) receive as their own that which has been procured for all men.
Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before,(15) Whereof.—Better, And the Holy Ghost also beareth witness unto us. The Holy Ghost, speaking in Scripture (Hebrews 3:7; Hebrews 9:8)—the Scripture quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12—beareth witness.
After that he had said before.—Rather, after He hath said. The word “before” is not in the best MSS.
This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;(16) I will put my laws.—Rather, putting my laws upon their heart, upon their mind also will I write them. The first part of the quotation (Hebrews 8:8-10 in part) is omitted, and also some later lines (the last words of Hebrews 10:10 and the whole of Hebrews 10:11 in Hebrews 8). In the remainder we notice some variations, which prove that the writer is not aiming at verbal agreement with the original passage, but is quoting the substance only. (See the Note on Hebrews 8:10.)
And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.(17) Every reader must feel that as these verses stand in the Authorised version the sense is imperfect. The words “after He hath said before” (Hebrews 10:15) imply “then He saith,” or similar words, at some point in the verses which follow. Our translators did not attempt to complete the sense; for the marginal note (“some copies have, Then he saith, And their”) found in ordinary editions was added at a later date. By many commentators it is believed that the words “saith the Lord” (Hebrews 10:16) are intended as the completion of the sentence, so that no supplement is needed. This is, we think, very improbable. As it is the last part of the quotation that is taken up here, it is at the beginning of this verse that the explanatory words must come in: “Then He saith, And their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” This we have seen to be the crowning promise of the new covenant of which Jesus is the Mediator. When these words were first quoted (Hebrews 8:12), some important points in the argument were still untouched. Now the firm basis of the promise has been shown, for the covenant has been ratified by the death of Christ, and the blessings He has won for men are eternal (Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 9:12).
 From Dr. Scrivener’s “Cambridge Paragraph Bible” (p. xxxii.) we learn that the note was added by Dr. Paris in the Cambridge Bible of 1762. Dr. Scrivener adds: “probably from the Philoxenian Syriac version, then just becoming know.”
At this point we enter on the last great division of the Epistle (Hebrews 10:19 to Hebrews 13:25), which is occupied with earnest exhortation, encouragement to perseverance alternating with solemn warning against apostasy. The first section of this main division extends to the end of this chapter.
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,(19) The exhortation which here begins is very similar to that of Hebrews 4:14-16. Its greater fulness and expressiveness are in accordance with the development in the thought.
By the blood of Jesus.—Better, in the blood of Jesus; for the meaning probably is, “Having’ therefore boldness in the blood of Jesus for entering into the Holy (i.e., the Holiest) Place.” It is not that we enter “with the blood,” as the high priest entered the Holy of Holies (Hebrews 9:25): no comparison is made between Christ’s people and the Jewish high priest. But as when he entered within the veil the whole people symbolically entered in with him, so do we enter with our High Priest, who “by means of His own blood” entered for us (and as our “Forerunner,” Hebrews 6:20) into the immediate presence of God. In that through which He entered we have our “boldness to enter.”
And having an high priest over the house of God;(21) An high priest.—The Greek words properly signify a great priest (comp. Hebrews 4:14), which is one of the names by which the high priest is frequently designated, both in the Hebrew (Leviticus 21, et al.), and in the LXX. It may seem strange that the writer should here make use of a new word in the place of that which has occurred so frequently. But there is strong reason for believing that the language of one of the prophecies of Zechariah (Zechariah 6:11-13) is here before his mind. In the preceding verses (Zechariah 6:12-14) he has used words which united sacerdotal and kingly imagery; and it would be remarkable if this did not lead his thought to that prophecy. On the head of Joshua, “the great priest” (Zechariah 6:11), are placed crowns of silver and gold in token of royal dignity: then follows the prediction of Him of whom Joshua was the type. “He shall build the house of the Lord: and He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon His throne.” In the verse before us are combined several of the characteristic thoughts of that passage—the great priest, the priestly ruler, the house of God. The last-mentioned words are repeatedly used throughout the Old Testament, both in the Pentateuch and in later books, for the Tabernacle or Temple of God. In Hebrews 3:6 (to which there is a manifest allusion here) the meaning is enlarged, but only so that under “the house” is also comprised the household of God. Here the two thoughts are combined. Into the house of God we may enter; over it Jesus rules as “the great Priest.” The family of God subject to His rule includes the whole community of “the people of God” in heaven and upon earth.
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.(22) Let us draw near.—See Hebrews 10:1; also Hebrews 4:16; Hebrews 7:25; Hebrews 11:6.
With a true heart.—“True,” the word used in Hebrews 8:2; Hebrews 9:24, a real—i.e., a sincere heart. As in Hebrews 6 we read of “full assurance,” or rather, “fulness of hope,” so here of fulness of faith. “Without this there could be for us no “living way” (Hebrews 10:20) for entering into the holiest place. The thought of the whole verse connects itself with the priestly character of those who are the people of God (Exodus 19:6; Revelation 1:5-6). It is as priests that they enter the house of God, sprinkled with the blood of atonement (Hebrews 12:24; Hebrews 9:14; Leviticus 8:30; 1Peter 1:2), and with all defilement washed away (Leviticus 8:6). “Sprinkled from an evil conscience:” that is, freed by means of the “sprinkling” from a conscience defiled by guilt. In the last words there is a clear allusion to baptism, as the symbol of the new life of purity (Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5; 1Peter 3:21).
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)(23) In this verse again we have the characteristic words of earlier exhortations: “hold fast” (Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 3:14); “profession,” or, rather, confession (Hebrews 3:1; Hebrews 4:14).
Of our faith.—This rendering, apparently found in no earlier English version, is supposed to be due to oversight on the part of our translators. The true reading is “of the hope” (Hebrews 6:11; Hebrews 6:18-19). The two following words must be joined with “confession,” “let us hold fast the confession of the (Christian) hope so that it waver not.” This hope “maketh not ashamed” (Romans 5:5), for the promise is sure.
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:(24) Gradually the writer passes from that which belongs to the individual (Hebrews 10:19-20) to the mutual duties of members of a community. Possibly he knew that amongst those whom he addresses there had existed “provocations” that did not tend towards brotherly love. The strict meaning may simply be—let us take note of one another, to stimulate one another to good works; but in the result, if not in the expression, is included the converse thought, “that we may ourselves be thus provoked.”
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.(25) As the manner of some is.—Some members of this community, it would seem, had persuaded themselves that the relation of Judaism to Christianity, of the “synagogue” (the Greek word here used seems to allude to this technical name, and yet intentionally to avoid it) and the Church, was such as to permit them to avoid close intercourse with Christians and direct association with Christian assemblies. This neglect was the first step towards apostasy.
Exhorting.—Better, encouraging. (Comp. Hebrews 12:12.)
The day.—See 1Corinthians 3:13—“the day shall declare” every man’s work. Elsewhere we read of “the day of the Lord” (1Thessalonians 5:2); “the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:10). The words of Jesus to His disciples (Matthew 24; Luke 17) had enabled all who were willing to hear to understand “the signs of the times.” As the writer gave these warnings, the day when the Son of Man should come in His kingdom, bringing judgment upon Jerusalem (Matthew 16:28), was close at hand—that day which is distinctly presented to us in the New Testament as the type of His final coming.
For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,(26) For.—The connecting links are the thought of the consequences to which such sinful neglect (Hebrews 10:25) may lead, and the awful revelation of judgment which the final day will bring. Even more clearly than in Hebrews 6:4-6 the state described is one of wilful and continued sin, which is the result and the expression of apostasy from Christ. It is not, “If we fall under temptation and commit sin;” but, “If we are sinning wilfully.” The descriptive words are few as compared with those of the former passage, but they teach the same lesson. Not merely the “knowledge” but the “full knowledge” (Romans 1:28) of the truth has been received by those to whom the writer here makes reference; they have been “sanctified in the blood of the covenant” (Hebrews 10:29). For such “there remaineth no longer a sacrifice for sins:” that offering of Jesus which they deliberately reject has abolished all the earlier sacrifices. The observances and ceremonies of Judaism, which had been full of meaning whilst they pointed to Him that was to come, have lost all their virtue through His coming. Nay more: for such sin as this, the sin of knowing and wilful rejection of the only Sin offering, God has provided no other sacrifice. In its general significance this passage does not differ from Hebrews 6:4-6. (See the Notes.)
But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.(27) But a certain fearful looking for.—Better, But a fearful awaiting of judgment, and a jealousy of fire that shall devour the adversaries. For Christ’s “waiting” servants the thought of “judgment” is lost in that of “salvation” (Hebrews 9:27-28); to these sinners nothing is left but the awaiting of judgment. The next words are a partial quotation, or an adaptation, of Isaiah 26:11 : “Let them see (and be ashamed) the zeal for the people; yea, fire shall devour Thine adversaries.” (The Greek translation gives the second clause correctly, but not the former part of the sentence.) In the prophetic imagery of the Old Testament the destruction of the enemies of Jehovah is but the other aspect of His zeal or jealousy for His people. This imagery was familiar to every Hebrew; and no words could show more powerfully than these that to forsake Christ for Judaism was (not to join, but) to abandon “the people of God.” For such apostates there remaineth the zeal, the jealous wrath, of a devouring fire. (Comp. Hebrews 12:29; Malachi 4)
He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:(28) He that despised Moses’ law.—Rather, A man that hath set at nought a law of Moses dieth without pity before two or three witnesses. The reference is to Deuteronomy 17:2-7, the last words being a direct quotation from Hebrews 10:6 in that section. There the subject is apostasy from Jehovah to the worship of idols. That sin which, by the acknowledgment of all, had in ancient time robbed Israel of the name of God’s people is tacitly placed by the side of the sin of those who for sake Christ. It will be seen how impressively the thought of the last verse is maintained in this.
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?(29) Shall he be thought worthy.—Better, shall he be accounted (or, judged) worthy, by God the Judge of all, when “the Day” shall come. In the act of apostasy the sinner trampled under foot the Son of God, treated with contempt and scorn Him to whom belongs this highest Name (Hebrews 1:1-4); and the principle of this act becomes the principle of the whole succeeding life. That “blood” by which the new covenant was established (Hebrews 9:15-17)—the blood in which he himself had received the sanctification which the law could not give—he has esteemed an unholy thing. There is no medium between highest reverence and utter contumely in such a case: to those who did not receive Jesus as Lord He was a deceiver (Matthew 27:63), and one who deserved to die.
Hath done despite.—Hath treated with outrage and insult the Spirit of whose gifts he had been partaker (Hebrews 6:4), for “grace” returning arrogant scorn.
For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people.(30) By a new and living way.—Better, by the way which He dedicated (or inaugurated) for us, a new and living way. This way was opened to us by Him; in it we follow Him. For Him, the way into the Holiest led through the veil, His flesh. As the veil concealed from the high priest the place of God’s presence, which he could enter only by passing through the veil; so, although in His earthly life Jesus dwelt in the presence of God, yet as our representative He could not enter the heavenly sanctuary until He had passed through and out of His life of flesh (see Hebrews 9:11). There is probably a covert allusion to the rending of the Temple veil in the hour when Jesus thus passed through the rent veil of His flesh. This way is new (Hebrews 9:8; Hebrews 9:12), it is living, for in truth this “way” is living union with Christ (John 14:6).
(30) Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense.—This quotation from Deuteronomy 32:35 completely preserves the sense of the original words, “To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence,” whilst departing from their form. The LXX. shows still wider divergence, neglecting entirely the emphasis which rests on the words “to Me” It is therefore very remarkable that this quotation is given, in exactly the same form, in Romans 12:19. As, however, the words “I will recompense” are found in the most ancient of the Targums (that of Onkelos) it is very possible that St. Paul may have there adopted a form already current amongst the Jews. (See Note on Romans 12:19.) If so, there is no difficulty in accounting for the coincidence in this place. But, even if this supposition is. without foundation, and the saying in this form was first used in Romans 12:19, is there any real cause for wonder if a disciple of St. Paul in a single instance reproduces the Apostle’s words? It should be observed that the words “saith the Lord” must be omitted from the text, according to the best authorities.
The Lord shall judge his people.—This, again, is a quotation, and from the same chapter (Deuteronomy 32:36). If the context of the original passage be examined, there will be no doubt as to the meaning of the words. As in Psalm 43:1; Psalm 135:14, “to judge,” as here used, signifies to maintain the right of one who is exposed to wrong. “The Lord shall judge His people” (see Hebrews 10:27) when He shall appear to establish their cause by taking vengeance on His enemies and theirs. With what impressive force would the quotations in this section (Hebrews 10:27-28; Hebrews 10:30)—differing widely in form, but presenting a very striking agreement in their meaning—fall on the ears of readers familiar from childhood with the ideas and language of the Old Testament Scriptures!
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.(31) 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.”
But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions;(32) In the last six verses the writer has enforced his exhortation by an appeal to the danger of falling away and the fearful consequences of unfaithfulness. From warning he now turns to encouragement, as in Hebrews 6; and here, as there, he thankfully recalls the earlier proofs which his readers had given of their Christian constancy and love. Let them call to mind and ever keep in remembrance what the grace of God had already enabled them to endure. (Comp. 2John 1:8). As Theophylact has said, he bids them imitate, not others, but themselves.
Illuminated.—Better, enlightened. It is important to keep the word used in the parallel verse, Hebrews 6:4 (see Note).
Fight of afflictions.—Rather, conflict of sufferings; for the last word has in this Epistle (Hebrews 2:9-10) associations too sacred to be lost. The former word (akin to that used by St. Paul in 2Timothy 2:5 of the contests in the public games) recalls the intense struggles of the contending athletes; it occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Comp. Philippians 1:27; Philippians 4:3; (Philippians 1:30; Colossians 1:29; Colossians 2:1; 1Timothy 6:12; Hebrews 12:1.) This struggle they had manfully endured.
Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used.(33) Whilst ye were made a gazingstock.—Literally, being exposed in the theatre (see the Notes on Acts 19:29; 1Corinthians 4:9; 1Corinthians 15:32). Here also it is probable that the word has only a figurative sense.
Whilst ye became companions.—Better, having become sharers with them that thus lived—that lived amidst “reproaches and afflictions.” Not “companions” only had they been, but sharers of the lot of their persecuted brethren, both by sympathy and by voluntary association with their sufferings.
For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.(34) For ye had compassion of me in my bonds.—Rather (according to the true reading of the Greek), for ye had sympathy with them that were in bonds (comp. Hebrews 13:3, “Remember them that are in bonds as bound with them”). The change of reading is very important in connection] with the question of authorship. (See the Introduction.)
And took joyfully.—Better, and accepted with joy the spoiling of your possessions. In the spirit of Matthew 5:12 (Acts 5:41; 2Corinthians 12:10), they accepted persecution not with “patience and long suffering” only, but “with joy” (Colossians 1:11). The rendering “possessions” is necessary because a similar word (“substance” in the Authorised version) will immediately occur. In the last clause two remarkable changes in the Greek text are made necessary by the testimony of our best authorities. The words “in heaven” must certainly be removed; they are omitted in the oldest MSS., and are evidently an explanatory comment which has found its way into the text. For the reading, “in yourselves,” there is hardly any evidence whatever. The MSS. are divided between two readings, “yourselves” and “for yourselves;” the former having also the support of the Latin and Coptic versions. There is little doubt that we must read “yourselves;” and the most probable translation will now be, perceiving that ye have your own selves for a better possession and one that abideth. They had been taught the meaning of the words spoken by Jesus of the man who gains the world and loses himself (Luke 9:25), and of those who win their souls by their endurance (Luke 21:19); so in Hebrews 10:39 the writer speaks of “the gaining of the soul.” Thus trained, they could accept with joy the loss of possessions for the sake of Christ, perceiving that in Him they had received themselves as a possession, a better and a lasting possession. (It would be possible to render the clause, “knowing that ye yourselves have a better possession,” &c.; but the parallelism of Hebrews 10:39 renders it almost certain that the former view of the words is correct.)
Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward.(35) Cast not away therefore your confidence.—Rather, Cast not away therefore your boldness, seeing it hath a great recompence. To “cast away boldness” is the opposite of “holding fast the boldness of the hope” (Hebrews 3:6); the one belongs to the endurance of the faithful servant (Hebrews 10:32; Hebrews 10:36), the other to the cowardice of the man who draws back (Hebrews 10:38). This verse and the next are closely connected: Hold fast your boldness, seeing that to it belongs great reward; hold it fast, for “he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” On the last word, “recompence,” see Hebrews 2:2.
For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.(36) Patience—i.e., brave, patient endurance (see the Note on Hebrews 6:12). The general strain of the exhortation in that chapter (Hebrews 10:9-20) closely resembles these verses.
That, after ye have done . . . ye might.—Better, that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise. To do the will of God (Hebrews 13:21) is the necessary condition for receiving the promised blessing and reward (see Hebrews 11:39); for both “endurance” is necessary. In these words we have an echo of Matthew 7:21, where our Lord sums up His requirements from those who call themselves His in words which express the purpose of His own life (Hebrews 10:7; Hebrews 10:9; John 4:34).
For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.(37) The connection is this: “Ye have need of endurance” for “the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:6); ye shall “receive the promise,” for the Lord shall surely come, and that soon.
A little while.—Rather, a very little while. The expression is remarkable and unusual; it is evidently taken from Isaiah 26:20—“Come my people . . . hide thyself for a little moment until the indignation be overpast.” The subject of this passage, from which the one expressive phrase is taken, is the coming of Jehovah “to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity;” in “a little moment” shall the indignation consume His foes, then will He give deliverance to His people. Even this passing reference would serve to call up before the mind of the Hebrew readers the solemn associations of the prophecy—the promised salvation, the awful judgment.
And he that shall come will come.—Rather, He that cometh will come and will not tarry. In this and the next verse the writer of the Epistle takes up a passage, Habakkuk 2:3-4, which occupies a very important place in the writings of St. Paul (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11), and, as we have already seen (Note on Hebrews 6:1), in the later Jewish teaching. St. Paul’s citations are limited to a few words of Hebrews 10:4, “But the just shall live by faith;” here are quoted the whole of the fourth verse and part of the third. Perhaps it is too much to say that they are quoted, they are rather applied, for, as will be seen, the order of the clauses (see next verse) is changed, and some alterations are made in the language. It is important in this Epistle to discriminate between the instances of direct quotation from the Scripture, where the word of God is appealed to as furnishing proof, and those in which passages of the Old Testament are explained and applied (see the Note on Hebrews 10:5). The words before us nearly agree with the LXX., “If he delay, wait for him, because coming he will come, and will not tarry.” The subject of the sentence there is not clear; probably the translator believed that the Lord spoke thus of His own coming, or the coming of the future Deliverer. In the Hebrew all relates to the vision, “it will surely come, it will not tarry.” The only difference between the LXX. and the words as they stand here consists in the substitution of “He that cometh” for “coming.” Now the reference to the Deliverer and Judge is made plain. No designation of the Messiah, perhaps, was more familiar than “He that cometh” (Matthew 11:3, et al.); but in is here employed with a new reference—to the second advent in place of the first. The departure from the sense of the Hebrew is not as great as may at first appear. When the prophet says “The vision . . . shall surely come,” it is of that which the vision revealed that he speaks, i.e., of the fall of the Chaldeans; but the salvation of Israel from present danger is throughout the prophets the symbol of the great deliverance (comp. Hebrews 12:26 and Haggai 2:6). With this verse comp. Hebrews 10:25; also Philippians 4:5; James 5:8; 1Peter 4:7; Revelation 1:3; Revelation 22:20, et al.; and, in regard to the application of the prophecy, Hebrews 10:27-28; Hebrews 10:30.
Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.(38) Now the just shall live by faith.—The Greek text of this clause is not perfectly certain, but it is probable that the word “my” should be added, so that the translation of the verse will be as follows, But my righteous one shall live by faith. In the Hebrew the first part of the verse is altogether different: “Behold his soul is lifted up, it is not upright in him; but the righteous shall live in (or, by) his faithfulness (or, faith).”The first words seem to refer to the haughty Chaldean invader; the rendering of the last words is considered below. The Greek translation varies a little in different MSS.: “If one draw back, my soul hath no pleasure in him; but the righteous one shall live by my faithfulness” (or possibly—not probably—“by faith in me”). In the Alexandrian MSS, the last words run thus: “But my righteous one shall live by faith” (or faithfulness). It is clear, then, that in the passage before us the writer has taken the words as they stood in his text of the LXX., only changing the order of the clauses. Though the Hebrew word usually rendered faith in this passage occurs more than forty times in the Old Testament, in no other case has it this meaning, but almost always signifies faithfulness or truth. Here also the first meaning seems to be “by his faithfulness”; but the thought of faithful constancy to God is inseparably connected with trustful clinging to Him. Hence the accepted Jewish exposition of the passage seems to have taken the word in the sense of “faith.” “My righteous one” will naturally mean “my righteous servant”—the man who will not be seduced into wickedness; he shall live by his faithful trust, for salvation and life shall be given him by God Himself. In this context the word righteous recalls-verse 36, “having done the will of God.”
The transposition of the two clauses makes it almost certain that the “righteous one” is the subject of both: not if any man, but, if he (the righteous one) shrink back. The Genevan and the Authorised stand alone amongst English versions in the former rendering.
But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.(39) Of them who draw back.—Literally, But we are not of drawing (or shrinking) back unto perdition, but of faith unto the gaining of the soul. On the last words (which are nearly identical with those of Luke 17:33, though deeper in meaning) see the Note on Hebrews 10:34. The exhortation thus closes with words of encouragement and hope.