Hebrews 3 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Hebrews 3
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(3:1-4:13) Having, therefore, this High Priest over the house of God—a faithful Son exalted above Moses the faithful servant—let us by faithfulness make sure our calling to be God’s sons; that we may not, like those who through their disobedience in the wilderness provoked the Lord, be excluded from the promised rest.

Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;
(1) Wherefore.—The address which here begins (the first direct address in the Epistle) bears the same relation to all that has preceded, as Hebrews 2:1-4 bears to the first chapter. In particular, the contents of the second chapter are gathered up in this verse, almost every word of which recalls some previous statement or result.

Holy brethren.—United in one brotherhood in virtue of a common sonship (Hebrews 2:10) and of a common brotherhood (Hebrews 2:11) with Jesus, Him “that sanctifieth” (Hebrews 2:11).

Partakers.—Through Him who “took part” of our earthly nature (Hebrews 2:14) we are partakers of a “heavenly calling” (Hebrews 2:10) as God’s sons.

The Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.—The best MSS. omit “Christ”; and it is impossible not to feel how fitly the personal name “Jesus” is used after the later verses of Hebrews 2. Here only is the name Apostle directly given to our Lord; but the thought is present in Hebrews 2:3, and in the many passages in which Jesus designates Himself as the Sent of God, using the word from which Apostle is derived (John 3:17; John 5:36, et al.; especially John 17:18; John 20:21). There is very little difference between Apostle and Prophet, thus applied; but the one brings into relief the mission, the other the office and position. Each presents a thought complementary of that contained in high priest: “as Apostle Jesus pleads the cause of God with us; as High Priest He pleads our cause with God” (Bengel). The next verse renders it probable that the two terms contain a reference to the special mission of Moses and the priesthood of Aaron; our Christian confession looks to One mediator.

Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.
(2) Who was.—Rather, as being; or that He was. Not merely, fix your thought on Jesus; but also (and especially), think of Him as faithful to God (Hebrews 2:17).

Appointed him.—Literally, made Him, an expression which some ancient (Ambrose and other Latin fathers,—apparently also Athanasius) and many modern writers have understood as relating to the creation of the human nature of our Lord. It is probable, however, that 1 Samuel 12:6 is in the writer’s mind. “It is the Lord that made Moses and Aaron, and that brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt.” As there Samuel speaks of the raising up of Moses and Aaron, constituted by God deliverers of the people; so here our thought must rest on Him who constituted Jesus “Apostle and High Priest.”

As also Moses.—These words, which give the key to the following verses, are quoted from Numbers 12:7, where Moses is placed in contrast with prophets in Israel to whom the Lord will make Himself known by vision or dream. “My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth.” The “house” or household is God’s. people Israel. To others will God reveal Himself in various ways in regard to the many parts of the house, the many concerns of the household. Throughout the whole house Moses was the recipient of the divine commands, and was faithful—“faithful” (as one of the Targums paraphrases), “as chief of the chiefs of my court.”

For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.
(3) For this man was counted.—Rather, For He hath been accounted, by God, who hath crowned Him with glory and honour (Hebrews 2:9). In this reward lies contained the proof that He was faithful. This is probably the connection of thought; others join this verse with the first: “Consider Him . . . for He hath received higher glory than Moses.”

Inasmuch as.—That is, in proportion as: the glory attained by Jesus exceeds the glory of Moses, as the honour due to the builder of the house exceeds that possessed by the house itself. It is not said that Jesus is the Builder; but the relation in which He stands to the Builder of the house is compared with that of Moses to the house. (See Hebrews 3:5-6.) “Builded” is not a happy word here (especially if we consider the sense in which “house” is used), but it is not easy to find a suitable rendering. The meaning is, He who prepared or formed the house, with all its necessary parts and arrangements.

For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God.
(4) For every house is builded by some man.—Rather, by some one: the thought of the house leads at once to the thought of the builder of it. The meaning of the several parts of this verse is very simple; but it is not easy to follow the reasoning with certainty. The second clause seems to be a condensed expression of this thought: “But He that built this house is He that built all things, God.” “Moses is possessed of lesser glory than the Apostle of our confession, as the house stands below its maker in honour. For this house, like every other, has its maker:—it is He who made all things, even God.

And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after;
(5) As a servant.—What was before implied is now clearly expressed. Hebrews 3:3 associated Moses with the house, Jesus with Him who builded it; of what nature this relation was, is stated in this verse and the next. Moses was “in God’s house;” however exalted his position, he was in the house as a servant. The Greek word used here does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, but is taken from the LXX. version of Numbers 12:7. There is nothing special in the Hebrew word in that place, but the translators seem to have felt that “bond-servant” was less suitable in such a context than “attendant” or “minister.” The object of his service was that he might bear “testimony of the things that should hereafter be spoken.” Are we to understand by these the divine commands that would from time to time be given to Moses? If so, then the statement “Moses was faithful” must be regarded as a pure quotation, equivalent to “Moses was at that time declared faithful.” This does not seem probable. If, however, the words of Numbers 12:7 are taken as descriptive of the whole life of Moses, his “witness” must relate to the things spoken “in these last days;” of these, by his writings, his acts, his life, Moses bore constant witness. (See Hebrews 3:2; Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 9:19; Hebrews 11:26; John 5:46, et al.) The latter interpretation is confirmed by Hebrews 3:6, in which the name given to our Lord is not Jesus, as in Hebrews 3:1, but Christ.

But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.
(6) But Christ as a son over his own house.—Rather, over His house. Throughout this passage (Hebrews 3:2; Hebrews 3:5-6) “His house” must be taken in the sense of the quotation, as the house of God. Whereas Moses was faithful as a servant in this house of God, Christ was faithful as a son set over His Father’s house. The antithesis is complete: the one is a servant for witness, the other a Son having a natural right to rule. The concluding words in Hebrews 3:5 have no formal answer here, but the contrast is not the less distinctly expressed. The name Christ (which here occurs for the first time) is in this Epistle never a mere name: it contains implicitly the thought that all that to which Moses bore witness has reached its fulfilment now. Christ has come: God’s house, formerly typified by Israel, is now manifested as it really is, containing all “sons” whom God leads to glory (Hebrews 2:10). The terms applied by constant usage to the one nation are thus successively enlarged: the “seed of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:16), “the people” (Hebrews 2:17), the “house of God” (see Hebrews 10:21).

If we hold fast the confidence.—Better, If we hold the boldness and the glorying of our hope firm unto the end. Faithful to his practical purpose, the writer adds to the words “whose house are we” the indispensable condition. The “house” exists (“are we”), to it belong all who possess the Christian “hope;” but for assured and final appropriation of the promise there must be steadfastness “unto the end.” This exhortation differs from that in Hebrews 2:1-4, in that it more distinctly implies that those who are addressed have a possession which they may lose. The Christian “hope,” that aspect of faith which is turned towards the future, is naturally often in the writer’s thoughts. The words associated are very striking: hope gives us boldness (see 2 Corinthians 3:12), and of this hope we make our boast. “Boldness” is spoken of again (in Hebrews 4:16; Hebrews 10:19; Hebrews 10:35): properly meaning “freedom of speech,” it denotes the confident, bold feelings and demeanour which connect themselves with the free utterance of thought.

Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice,
(7) Wherefore.—Since without steadfastness all will be lost. With the words introducing the quotation compare Hebrews 9:8; Hebrews 10:15.

Whether the marks of parenthesis here introduced in our ordinary Bibles (not inserted by the translators of 1611) express the true connection of the verses is a question very hard to decide, and one that does not admit of full discussion here. It is very possible that the writer (like St. Paul in Romans 15:3; Romans 15:21; 1 Corinthians 1:31) may have merged his own exhortation in that which the quotation supplies (Hebrews 3:8); and the objection that Hebrews 3:12 would naturally in that case have been introduced by some connective word is shown to be groundless by such passages as Hebrews 8:13; Hebrews 10:23; Hebrews 12:7; Hebrews 12:25. On the other hand, if we connect “Wherefore,” in this verse, with “Take heed” in Hebrews 3:12, we have greater regularity of structure—a strong argument in this Epistle. It seems unlikely, moreover, that the writer (whose tenderness of tone and sympathy are so manifest in his words of warning) would at this stage adopt as his own the stringent and general exhortation, “harden not your hearts:” the spirit of Hebrews 3:12 (“lest haply there shall be in any one of you”) is altogether different. On the whole, therefore, it seems best to consider Hebrews 3:7 (“To-day . . .”) to Hebrews 3:11 (“. . . my rest”) as a pure quotation, enforcing the warning that follows.

Psalms 95, the latter part of which (Hebrews 3:7-11) is here cited, is in the LXX. ascribed to David, but is probably of later date. (As to Hebrews 4:7, see the Note.) In most important respects the words of the quotation agree with the Greek version, and with the Hebrew text. The chief exceptions will be noted as they occur.

To day if ye will hear his voice.—Rather, To-day if ye shall hear (literally, shall have heard) His voice. The Greek will not allow the sense in which the words are naturally taken by the English reader, “if ye are willing to hear.” The meaning of the Hebrew words is either—(1) “To-day, oh that ye would hearken to (that is, obey) His voice!” or, (2) “To-day if ye hearken to His voice.” The “voice” is that which speaks in the following verses. As the words stand before us, the Psalmist does not formally complete the sentence here commenced (“if ye shall hear . . .”). He introduces the divine words of warning, but adds none in his own person. The entreaty “Harden not your hearts” is at once the utterance of the divine voice and the expression of his own urgent prayer. Other passages in which the hardening of the heart is spoken of as the work of man himself are Exodus 9:34; 1 Samuel 6:6; Proverbs 28:14.

Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
(8) In the day of temptation.—Better, like the day of the temptation. As in the LXX., so here, two words which in the Hebrew are proper names (“as at Meribah, and as in the day of Massah”) are translated according to their intrinsic meaning. (For the former see Exodus 17:7; Numbers 20:13; and for the latter Exodus 17:7.) We may believe that these places are here chosen for reference partly on account of their significant names; but it is noteworthy that the rebellions recorded in the names belonged to the beginning and to the close of the years of wandering.

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

Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.
(10) I was grieved with that generation.—Rather, I was angry with this generation. The Hebrew is very strong: “I loathed a (whole) generation.” The first word, “Wherefore,” is not found in the Psalm, but is added to make the connection more distinct.

And they have not known my ways.—Better, yet they took not knowledge of My ways. Although throughout the forty years He had shown to them their disobedience and His displeasure, yet the warning and discipline were fruitless. They gained no knowledge of His ways. It is very important to observe this explicit reference to the close, as well as the beginning of the forty years. (See Hebrews 3:8.)

So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)
(11) So.—Rather, as (Hebrews 4:3). It is with these as it was with their fathers, the generations that came out of Egypt, unto whom God sware, “They shall not enter into My rest” (Numbers 14:21-24). The form in which these words appear below (Hebrews 4:3; Hebrews 4:5) in the Authorised version, “If they shall enter into my rest,” is an imitation of the original construction. See Numbers 14:23, where “they shall not see” is. as the margin shows, expressed in Hebrew by “if they (shall) see” the land.

Into my rest.—Into the land where Jehovah shall give rest to His people and shall dwell with them. (See Deuteronomy 12:9; 1 Kings 8:56; Psalm 132:14; Isaiah 66:1; 1 Chronicles 6:31; 2 Chronicles 6:41.)

Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
(12) Lest there be in any of you.—Better, lest haply there shall be in any one of you. (See above, on Hebrews 3:7.)

In departing.—Better, in falling away from a Living God. The heart of unbelief will manifest its evil in apostasy. The Greek word apistia stands in direct contrast to “faithful” (pistos), Hebrews 3:2, and combines the ideas of “unbelief” and “faithlessness.” He whose words they have heard is a living God, ever watchful in warning and entreaty (Hebrews 3:8), but also in the sure punishment of the faithless (Hebrews 3:11; Hebrews 10:31).

But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
(13) While it is called To day.—Literally, as long as the “to-day” is called (to you), lest any one of you be hardened by deceit of sin. As long as they heard the word of God speaking in the Scripture, “To-day if ye shall hear,” so long is the way of obedience open to them. Sin is here personified as the Deceiver (Romans 7:11), alluring from God by the offer of “pleasures” (Hebrews 11:25), or persuading that forbearance and “respite” (Exodus 8:15; Ecclesiastes 8:11) imply the absence of a Living God.

For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;
(14) For.—Take heed (Hebrews 3:12) lest there be anything that may lead astray, for we have become partakers of the Christ if (and only if) we hold the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end. In Hebrews 3:6, since Israel had been spoken of as God’s house, the Christian hope finds expression in “whose house are we,” Here the comparison with Israel journeying to the land of promise suggests another figure, and all blessing is summed up in becoming “partakers of the Christ,” foretold and expected as the Fulfiller of all promises. Two different words in the two verses are rendered “confidence” in the Authorised version. The former, as we have seen (Hebrews 3:6), is “boldness;” the latter (here used) is applied to men who make a firm stand when attacked, who stand firmly under pressure. In the first energy of the new life such firm constancy had been shown by them (Hebrews 10:32-34); but would it be maintained “unto the end”?

While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.
(15) If ye will hear.—Rather, as before (Hebrews 3:7), if ye shall hear. The true connection of this verse is not easily decided. By many it is held that the words should be joined with what follows, and commence a new paragraph; but this does not seem probable. Either Hebrews 3:14 is parenthetical, so that this verse emphasises the reference to “today” in Hebrews 3:13; or the thought of the writer is that we must “hold fast the beginning of our confidence” in the presence of this divine warning—whilst day by day these words are addressed to us anew.

For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses.
(16) For.—The connecting link is the thought of “the provocation.” A slight change in the accentuation of the first Greek word effects a complete change in the sense: For who when they had heard did provoke? Nay, was it not all that came out of Egypt through Moses? Those who were disobedient were the people whom God, through Moses, had but now delivered from bondage! The two exceptions (Numbers 14:30) are left out of account in the presence of the multitude of rebels. There can be little doubt that the above translation (now generally received) presents the true meaning of the verse. It will be remembered that the oldest MSS. give no evidence on such points as accentuation, and therefore leave our judgment free. In modern times Bengel was the first to point out the true form of the Greek word; but one of the ancient versions (the Peschito-Syriac), and at least three of the Greek Fathers, are found to give the same interpretation. It will be seen at once that, with this arrangement of the words, the present verse is similar in structure to the two following.

But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?
(17) But.—Better, And with whom was He angry forty years?

Whose carcases.—Literally, limbs. The word is taken from the Greek version of Numbers 14:29; and seems intended to convey the thought of bodies falling limb from limb in the wilderness.

And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?
(18) That believed not.—Rather, that disobeyed. Every part of the solemn sentences of the Psalm is applied to the reader’s conscience, that the effect of the whole warning may be deepened: the nature of the transgression is thus brought out with the strongest emphasis. Those with whom God was angry had provoked God (Hebrews 3:16), had sinned (Hebrews 3:17), had been disobedient, had refused to believe His word (Hebrews 3:19). The action of the Israelites (Numbers 14) involved at once disobedience to God’s command that they should advance to the conquest of the land, and want of faith in the promise which made victory sure.

So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
(19) So we see.—Rather, And we see. It is not the general conclusion that is here expressed; but, as in Hebrews 3:18 we read of the oath of exclusion, this verse records the fact, and also states the cause under an aspect which is most suitable for the exhortation which is in the writer’s thought. There is force in “could not enter”:—not only disobedience, but cowardice and weakness, sprang from “unbelief.”

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