Hebrews 13 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Hebrews 13
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

This concluding chapter is chiefly occupied with special exhortations relating to Christian conduct: with these, however, are intermingled some important and characteristic references to the leading themes of the Epistle.

Let brotherly love continue.
(1) Brotherly love.—Better, The love of the brethren. (See Romans 12:10, and Note; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22.) The love which they had shown to the Christian brotherhood is commended in Hebrews 6:10 (Hebrews 10:33); and yet there was some ground for fear that such affection might not “continue” (Hebrews 10:25).

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
(2) To entertain strangers.—Hospitality to Christian brethren at a distance from their homes is especially intended (1 Peter 4:9): this was one manifestation of the “love of the brethren” (Hebrews 13:1). The prominence assigned to this duty in the exhortations of the Epistles of the New Testament was faithfully reflected in the practice of the early Church.

Thereby some have entertained angels unawares.—See Genesis 18, 19. The Greek word for “angels”—messengers—of itself would serve to remind these Christians that, though the strangers whom they welcomed were but men, they might be special messengers of God. Clement of Rome, in his Epistle to the Corinthians (A.D. 95), appeals to the same examples (and also to Rahab): “For his faith and hospitality a son was given to Abraham in his old age. For his hospitality and godliness Lot was saved from Sodom.”

Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.
(3) As bound with them.—Either (1) “As if ye yourselves were in bonds” (see Hebrews 10:33-34; 1 Corinthians 12:26)—by true fellow-feeling make yourselves sharers in their lot; or, (2) “mindful that ye too are in bonds”—like them ye are Christ’s prisoners, and their bonds are but one of the tokens of that service in which all Christians are bound. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 7:22.)

As being yourselves also in the body.—“Mindful that you, like them, still dwell in a body liable to pain, and may therefore suffer ill-treatment in the cause of Christ.”

Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.
(4) Marriage is honourable in all.—Rather, Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. The precept is directed against impurity (Hebrews 12:16), and also against the false asceticism of men “forbidding to marry” (1 Timothy 4:3). The laxity of morals among Gentiles (Note on Acts 15:20) and the prevalence of divorce amongst Jews (Matthew 5:32) explain the sudden introduction of such warnings: of these sinners the all-seeing God will be the judge. (Comp. 1 Thessalonians 4:6.)

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
(5) In these two verses (Hebrews 13:4-5) we have the same connection of thought as in Hebrews 12:16; Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:3. “Impurity and covetousness may be said to divide between them nearly the whole domain of human selfishness and vice” (Lightfoot on Colossians 3:5).

Conversation.—Literally, way of thought and life, character, disposition.

For he.—Rather, for He Himself hath said. As in many other places in this Epistle, the word of Scripture is regarded as directly spoken by God; but there is an emphasis here (“He Himself”) which well suits the remarkable impressiveness of the words quoted, “I will in no wise let thee go; no, nor will I forsake thee.” This promise of divine support and protection does not occur exactly in the same form in the Old Testament, but is clearly taken from Deuteronomy 31:6, “He will not fail thee nor forsake thee.” (Comp. also Genesis 28:15; Joshua 1:5; 1 Chronicles 28:20.) The appositeness of these words and those which follow (Hebrews 13:6) will be seen if we remember the trials which the Hebrew Christians had already endured (Hebrews 10:32-34). It is very probable that this thought supplies the link of connection between Hebrews 13:5-6, and Hebrews 13:7.

So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.
(6) We may boldly say.—Rather, so that we say with courage. The words of the quotation (Psalm 118:6) should be arranged thus: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear: what shall man do unto me?”

Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
(7) Which have the rule.—Rather, which were your leaders (Hebrews 13:17; Hebrews 13:24; Acts 15:22), who spake unto you the word of God. These spiritual guides had been removed from them by death.

Whose faith follow.—Better, and, contemplating: the end (or, issue) of their life, imitate their faith. Their Christian life and course (James 3:13; 1 Peter 1:15, et al.), had been known by the Church; they, too, have obtained a good report “by faith” (Hebrews 11:2), and all who contemplate the blessed issue of such a life will be strengthened to imitate their faith. We may well suppose that some had died a martyr’s death, but the writer seems carefully to avoid any direct expression of this thought; his words apply to all who have ended their course in the triumph of faith. This verse recalls a striking passage in the Book of Wisdom, Hebrews 2:17-18; especially Hebrews 13:17, where the ungodly say of the righteous man, “Let us see if his words be true, and let us prove what shall happen in the end of him.”

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.
(8) Jesus Christ the same . . .—Rather, Jesus Christ is yesterday and to-day the same; yea, also for ever. Their earlier guides have passed away (Hebrews 13:7); their Lord and Saviour abides the same for ever. He who is the subject of all Christian teaching is the same, therefore (Hebrews 13:9) “be not carried away by divert teachings.” Thus, this verse stands connected both with what precedes and with what follows. “Yesterday” carries the thought back to the lifetime of the teachers now no more; what the Saviour was to them, that will He be to their survivors. The whole period since He “sat down on the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12-13) is covered by this word. What He was “yesterday and to-day” He will be for ever. (See Hebrews 1:11-12.)

Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.
(9) Be not carried about.—The better reading of the Greek gives a meaning somewhat different, Be not carried away by divers and strange teachings. The ordinary reading may have come in from Ephesians 4:14. The “teachings” by which they were in danger of being led astray were various, and were all foreign to the one true word. The contrasts expressed in the second part of this verse and in Hebrews 13:10-11, throw light on the nature and source of the erroneous doctrine. Its subject was not “grace,” but “meats;” its promoters were connected with those who serve the Tabernacle. Hence the writer is probably speaking of doctrines and practices similar to those censured by St. Paul in Colossians 2:16-23. (See the introductory Note on Romans 14; also 1 Timothy 4:3.) In Hebrews 9:10 we read of “meats and drinks” in connection with the Law of Moses; here the divers and strange teachings” must include human additions to that Law and perversions of its spirit.

With grace; not with meats.—Better, by grace, not by meats. Instead of being “carried away by strange teachings,” let your hearts be made firm and sure by grace. As the whole system of ceremonial observance is alluded to under the one term “meats,” so the blessings of the Christian faith are comprised under “grace,” a word used throughout this Epistle with peculiar significance. (See especially Hebrews 10:29; Hebrews 12:15; Hebrews 12:28.) One human system of teaching will but lead on to another; grace will keep the heart firm in its loyal love to Jesus Christ, who is ever “the same” (Hebrews 13:8).

Which have not profited.—Literally, in which they that walked were not ‘profited. To the English reader the mode of expression must appear peculiar; in the Greek, however, there is little or no incongruity, for the word which we render “walk” is used most freely to denote a course or manner of life. Comp. Ephesians 2:10, “unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Here the meaning is, that those who have made these external observances the rule of their life have failed of the profit which they sought. (Comp. Hebrews 7:18-19.)

We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.
(10, 11) “We need not such profitless teaching; we already have sustenance which is ‘meat indeed,’ by which the heart is established.” According to the Law, the priests (they. who “serve the Tabernacle,” see Hebrews 8:5) received for themselves a greater or smaller portion of the animals offered as peace-offerings and trespass-offerings; in some cases, also, the flesh of the sin-offerings fell to their lot (Leviticus 4, 5, 7, 23). When the high priest presented a sin-offering on his own behalf (Leviticus 4:3-12), or for the congregation (Hebrews 13:13-21), he sprinkled some of the blood in the Holy Place in front of the veil; on the Day of Atonement alone was the blood taken within the veil into the Most Holy Place. In the case of these three offerings the priest received no part of the animal sacrificed; certain portions were burnt on the altar of burnt-offering, and the rest of the body was carried forth “without the camp,” and wholly consumed by fire. Though the writer here speaks of animals whose blood is brought into the Holy Place through the high priest, as an offering for sin, it is probable that (as in Hebrews 5-9) he has in thought the Day of Atonement only, so that here “the Holy Place” bears the sense of the “Holiest of all.” (See Note on Hebrews 9:2.) (It will be noted that throughout he uses the present tense; see the same Note). For us there is but one sacrifice for sin, the efficacy of which endures for ever (Hebrews 10:12): Jesus entering the Holiest Place for us in virtue of His own sacrifice has fulfilled the type contained in the high priest’s sprinkling of the blood. But whereas those priests might not eat of their sin-offering, to us greater privilege is given; we feed on Him who was slain for us, whose flesh war for the life of the world (John 6:51-56). We then (who are all “priests unto God”) “have an altar of which,” on the very principles of their Law, “they that serve the Tabernacle (see Hebrews 8:5) have no right to eat.” The stress is laid on the sacrifice, of which we eat, not upon the altar itself. If separately interpreted, the altar will be the place of sacrifice, the Cross.

For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp.
Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.
(12) The sin-offering was burned without the camp. Jesus who in all other points fulfilled the law of atonement fulfilled it in this point also, in that He suffered “without the gate” (Matthew 27:32; John 19:20). The two expressions answer to one another, each denoting that which lay beyond the sacred precincts, outside the special dwelling-place of God’s people. “The people,” see Hebrews 2:17; “sanctify,” Hebrews 2:11; Hebrews 9:13; Hebrews 10:10.

Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.
(13) The suffering “without the gate” was a symbol of His rejection by the Jews. All who would be His must share the reproach which came upon Him, who was cast out by His people and crucified (Hebrews 11:26): they also must go forth “without the camp,” forsaking the company of His foes. Each one must for himself make choice either of the synagogue or of the church of Christ; between the two there can be no fellowship.

For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.
(14) In this verse there seems to be a union of two thoughts: (1) We are free to go forth from the city so long held sacred, for our hopes are bound up with no abiding earthly sanctuary. (2) We may not shrink from the reproach of Christ because it will sever us from kindred and friends; for by the very profession of our faith we are “strangers and sojourners” (Hebrews 11:13), seeking after the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 11:10; Hebrews 12:22). How impressive are these words when read in the light of the events then unlooked for, yet so near at hand, issuing in the destruction of both Temple and city!

We seek one to come.—Rather, we seek after that (city) which is to come.

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.
(15) By him.—Better, through Him. Through His sacrifice, which has made atonement, we are hallowed (Hebrews 13:12), and fitted for our priestly service (1 Peter 2:5).

Let us offer the sacrifice.—Rather, let us offer up a sacrifice of praise continually unto God, that is, fruit of lips making confession to His name. The sacrifice we may bring is that symbolised by the thank-offering of Leviticus 7:12—where the same word is used. (See Psa. 1:14, 23.) “We will render the fruit of our lips” is the Greek version of Hosea 14:2; the Hebrew text (as we have it) differs in expression but not in meaning, “We will render our lips as bullocks”—i.e., as sacrifices. (Comp. Psalm 119:108; Isaiah 57:19.) The fruit is borne by lips which offer thankful acknowledgment to the name of God (Psalm 113:1).

But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
(16) And yet another offering may we bring: with thankfulness to Him must be joined acts of well doing to men; these, too, being presented as sacrifices to God.

To communicatei.e., freely to impart to others. (See Romans 12:13; Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 9:13; 1 Timothy 6:18.)

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
(17) The present section of the chapter begins (Hebrews 13:7) and ends (Hebrews 13:17) with a reference to the rulers of the Church: Remember your former leaders, and imitate their faith; obey them that lead you now.

Submit yourselves.—Better, yield (to them). Besides fulfilling their injunctions, be ready to comply with their wishes and requests.

For they watch.—The Greek is emphatic: “For it is they that watch on behalf of your souls as having to give account.”

That they may do it.—Be obedient and yielding to them, that they may do this (may watch for your souls) with joy and not sighing (or, groaning), for this would be unprofitable for you; if ye so live that they must watch over you with grief, this will both weaken their hands and bring on you the divine displeasure. No words could more powerfully present to members of the Church the motives for obedience to their spiritual guides; and to these guides themselves the ideal of their work and life, as men who are keeping watch for souls, either with rejoicing or with mourning (Acts 20:31), ever mindful of the account they must give to God for the flock which He entrusted to their care (Ezekiel 3:18; Ezekiel 33:7; Ezekiel 34:10; 1 Peter 5:4).

Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.
(18) The following verses—containing personal notices relating to the writer himself and his readers (Hebrews 13:18-19; Hebrews 13:22-23), a prayer on their behalf (Hebrews 13:20-21), a doxology (Hebrews 13:21), and brief salutations (Hebrews 13:24-25)—present many points of resemblance to the concluding sections in some of St. Paul’s Epistles. The first words, “Pray for us,” are found in Colossians 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1. That the writer does not use the plural pronoun of himself alone appears certain from the change in Hebrews 13:19; but it is not clear whether he is associating himself with the rulers of the Church (mentioned in Hebrews 13:17), or with the companions in labour who were with him as he wrote.

We trust.—A change in the reading of the Greek requires the translation: For we are persuaded that we have a good conscience, desiring in all things to conduct ourselves well. Some prejudice against the writer, or some mistrust of his motives, must have existed in the Church; that amongst Hebrew Christians a disciple of St. Paul should be misrepresented or misunderstood, can cause us no surprise. But whatever suspicion might be cherished by a few, the next verse is proof that he knew himself to be beloved by the many.

But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.
(19) But I beseech you.—Rather, And I exhort you the more (literally, the more abundantly) to do this. All that we can certainly infer from this verse (see Introduction) is that the writer had formerly been associated with those whom he now addresses, and that he is at present hindered from returning to them.

Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,
(20) Now the God of peace.—See Romans 15:33; Romans 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 3:16. In almost all these places there is something in the context suggestive of strife or turmoil to be brought to rest by “the God of peace.” Hence we may well believe that the writer here has in thought those divisions of thought and feeling which have been hinted at in Hebrews 13:17-19, and which in truth were the expression of the deep-seated mental unrest which it is the object of the Epistle to remove.

Our Lord Jesus.—As in Hebrews 2:9; Hebrews 3:1; Hebrews 12:2, the name is introduced after the description, according to the order of the Greek: “Now the God of peace that brought up from the dead (Romans 10:7) the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of an eternal covenant, our Lord Jesus . . .” Two passages of the prophets have contributed to the language of this remarkable verse: (1) Isaiah 63:11, ““Where is He that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of His flock?” Here the shepherds are no doubt Moses and Aaron (Psalm 77:20); the Greek translation, however, has, “Where is he that raised up out of the sea the shepherd of the sheep?” Moses, who led Israel through the sea, was brought up therefrom in safety to be the “shepherd” of his people Israel; by the same Almighty hand the great Shepherd of the sheep has been brought up from among the dead. (2) Zechariah 9:11, “As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.” In other words, “because of the blood which ratified thy covenant (Exodus 24:8) I have released thy prisoners.” As in the former case, the resemblance between the words in the LXX. and those here used is sufficient to convince us that the passage was in the writer’s thought. In (i.e., in virtue of) the blood of an eternal covenant (Hebrews 9:15-18) God has raised up the Lord Jesus. The covenant was ratified by His blood; the first of the blessings of the covenant, and that in which all blessing lay included, was this, that God raised Him up from the dead to be “the great Shepherd of the sheep.” If these prophetic words respecting Him who brings peace to the world (Zechariah 9:10, et al), were in the writer’s mind, how natural is his appeal to the God of peace. It has been often observed that this is the only passage in the Epistle in which we read of the resurrection of our Lord apart from His ascension; elsewhere His exaltation is contemplated as one act (Hebrews 2:9, et al.). It is not certain that we have an exception even here, for though the meaning of Romans 10:7 is beyond doubt, the words may in this place be used with a wider meaning.

Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
(21) Make you perfect.—To “make perfect” is the translation of two different words in this Epistle. In the one, which is of frequent occurrence (Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 10:1; Hebrews 12:23, et al.), “perfect” stands contrasted with that which is immature, which has not attained its end and aim. The other, which is used here (and in a somewhat different sense in Hebrews 10:5; Hebrews 11:3), rather conveys the thought of completeness, complete equipment or preparation.

Every good work.—The best authorities read “every good thing;” and below, substitute “us” for “you.”

Working.—Literally, doing, or making. The words of Philippians 2:12-13, are different, but the general thought is the same. “Well pleasing” recalls Hebrews 11:5; Hebrews 12:28; Hebrews 13:16. (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 5:10.)

Through Jesus Christ.—That is, “working in us through Jesus Christ that which is well-pleasing in His sight.” In Hebrews 13:20 (as in Hebrews 2:9) we read of the exaltation of “Jesus.” Here, where the subject of thought is the lasting mediation of our High Priest, the writer introduces the complete name “Jesus Christ,” thus preparing for the doxology which follows. That this ascription of praise is addressed to our Saviour (as in 2 Timothy 4:18; Revelation 1:6; 2 Peter 3:18), it seems hardly possible to doubt.

Glory.—Rather, the glory. (See Galatians 1:5.)

And I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation: for I have written a letter unto you in few words.
(22) And I beseech you.—Rather, Bui I exhort you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation; for indeed it is in few words that I have written unto you. How fitly the whole Epistle may be spoken of as an “exhortation” is obvious. (See Note on Hebrews 5:11.) And if we take into account the subjects with which the writer has been dealing, we shall not wonder that a Letter which might have been read to the assembled church in less than an hour should be described as brief. (Comp. 1 Peter 5:12.)

Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you.
(23) It is clear that the Hebrew Christians knew of the imprisonment of Timothy, but had not heard the news of his release. In 2 Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1:1, Timothy is spoken of as “the brother;” in 1 Thessalonians 3:2, and here, as “our brother” (for the word “our” printed in italics in the Authorised version, belongs to the true text). With him, the writer adds, “if he come shortly [sooner than the date at which he himself must depart], I will see you.”

Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.
(24) That have the rule over you.—Better, that are your leaders: see Hebrews 13:7; Hebrews 13:17.

They of Italy salute you.—These much discussed words are consistent with either of two hypotheses:—(1) That the writer is in Italy, and salutes “the Hebrews” in the name of the Christians of Italy: (2) That the writer is addressing a Church of Italy, and sends greeting from Christians who have their home in Italy, but are now with him. (See Introduction.)

Grace be with you all. Amen.
(25) Grace be with you all.—This brief closing benediction is also found in Titus 3:15, and, with the omission of “all,” in Colossians 4:18; 1 Timothy 6:21; 2 Timothy 4:22.

[As in the other Epistles the subscription is destitute of authority, not being found (in the form given above) in any MS. of the Epistle earlier than the ninth century. No ancient MS. contains more than the simple notice, “To the Hebrews,” except the Alexandrian, which adds “written from Rome.” The mention of Rome or Italy is, no doubt, due to Hebrews 13:24. It is possible also that Hebrews 13:23 is the only authority for the reference to Timothy as the bearer of the Epistle: for an ancient interpretation understands that verse to speak, not of the release of Timothy from captivity, but of his departure on some official mission.]

[The works chiefly used have been the commentaries on the Epistle by Bleek, Dolitzsch, Hofmann, Lünemann, Kurtz, Bengel, Ewald, Alford, Wordsworth, McCaul, and Biesenthal; Westcott On the Canon; Lightfoot’s Clement; Bleek’s Einleitung in das N. T. (by Mangold); Ewald’s Geschichte; Davidson’s two Introductions to the New Testament; Reuss’s History of Christian Theology; Riehm’s special work on the Doctrinal System of this Epistle; Stanley’s Sermons and Essays; the Commentaries on the Psalms by Delitzsch, Perowne, Jennings and Lowe; and Carpzov’s Sacrae Exercitationes.]

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