Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Analysis Of The Chapter
In this chapter Heb 5:1-14 the subject of the priestly office of Christ is continued and further illustrated. It had been introduced Heb 2:16, Heb 2:18; Heb 3:1; Heb 4:14-17. The Jews regarded the office of high priest as an essential feature in the true religion; and it became, therefore, of the highest importance to show that in the Christian system there was a High Priest every way equal to that of the Jews. In his rank; in his character; and in the sacrifice which he offered, he was more than equal to the Jewish high priest, and they who had forsaken Judaism and embraced Christianity had lost nothing in this respect by the change, and had gained much. It became necessary, therefore, in making out this point, to institute a comparison between the Jewish high priest and the Great Author of the Christian religion, and this comparison is pursued in this and the following chapters. The comparison in this chapter turns mainly on the "qualifications" for the office, and the question whether the Lord Jesus had those qualifications. The chapter embraces the following points:
I. The qualifications of a Jewish high priest; Heb 5:1-4. They are these.
(1) he must have been ordained or appointed by God for the purpose of offering gifts and sacrifices for sins; Heb 5:1.
(2) he must be tender and compassionate in his feelings, so that he can "sympathize" with those for whom he ministers; Heb 5:2.
(3) he must have an offering to bring to God, and be able to present a sacrifice alike for himself and for the people; Heb 5:3.
(4) he could not take this honor on himself, but must have evidence that he was called of God, as was Aaron; Heb 5:4.
II. An inquiry whether these qualifications were found in the Lord Jesus, the great High priest of the Christian dispensation; Heb 5:5-10. In considering this, the apostle specifies the following qualifications in him, corresponding to those which he had said were required by the Jewish high priest:
(1) He did not take this honor on himself, but was called directly by God, and after an order superior to the Aaronic priesthood - the order of Melchizedek; Heb 5:5-6, Heb 5:9-10.
(2) he was kind, tender, and compassionate, and showed that he was able to sympathize with those for whom he had undertaken the office. When on the earth he had evinced all the tenderness which could be desired in one who had come to pity and save mankind. He had a tender, sensitive, human nature. He felt deeply as a man, under the pressure of the great sufferings which he endured, and thus showed that he was abundantly qualified to sympathize with his people; Heb 5:7-8.
III. In Heb 5:10 the apostle had introduced, incidentally, a topic of great difficulty; and he adds Heb 5:11-14, that he had much to say on that subject, but that those whom he addressed were not qualified then to understand it. They ought to have been so far advanced in knowledge as to have been able to embrace the more abstruse and difficult points connected with the doctrines of Christianity. But they needed, he says, instruction even yet in the more simple elements of religion, and he feared that what he had to say of Melchizedek would be far above their comprehension. This point, therefore, he drops for the present, and in Heb. 6 states again, and at greater length, the danger of apostasy, and the importance of perseverance in endeavoring to comprehend the sublime mysteries of the Christian religion; and then Heb. 7 he resumes the subject of the comparison between Christ and Melchizedek.
For every high priest - That is, among the Jews, for the remarks relate to the Jewish system. The Jews had one high priest who was regarded as the successor of Aaron. The word "high priest" means "chief priest;" that is, a priest of higher rank and office than others. By the original regulation the Jewish high priest was to be of the family of Aaron Exo 29:9, though in later times the office was frequently conferred on others. In the time of the Romans it had become venal, and the Mosaic regulation was disregarded; 2 Macc. 4:7; Josephus, Ant. xv. 3. 1. It was no longer held for life, so that there were several persons at one time to whom was given the title of high priest. The high priest was at the head of religious affairs, and was the ordinary judge of all that pertained to religion, and even of the general justice of the Hebrew commonwealth; Deu 17:8-12; Deu 19:17; Deu 21:5; Deu 27:9-10.
He only had the privilege of entering the most holy place once a year, on the great day of atonement, to make expiation for the sins of the people; Lev. 16. He was to be the son of one who had married a virgin, and was to be free from any corporeal defect; Lev 21:13. The "dress" of the high priest was much more costly and magnificent than that of the inferior order of priests; Exo 39:1-7. He wore a mantle or robe - מציל me ̀iyl - of blue, with the borders embroidered with pomegranates in purple and scarlet; an "ephod" - אפוד ‛ephowd - made of cotton, with crimson, purple, and blue, and ornamented with gold worn over the robe or mantle, without sleeves, and divided below the arm-pits into two parts or halves, of which one was in front covering the breast, and the other behind covering the back. In the ephod was a breastplate of curious workmanship, and on the head a mitre. The breastplate was a piece of broidered work about ten inches square, and was made double, so as to answer the purpose of a pouch or bag. It was adorned with twelve precious stones, each one having the name of one of the tribes of Israel. The two upper corners of the breastplate were fastened to the ephod, and the two lower to the girdle.
Taken from among men - There maybe an allusion here to the fact that the great High Priest of the Christian dispensation had a higher than human origin, and was selected from a rank far above people. Or it may be that the meaning is, that every high priest on earth - including all under the old dispensation and the great high priest of the new - is ordained with reference to the welfare of people, and to bring some valuable offering forman to God.
Is ordained for men - Is set apart or consecrated for the welfare of people. The Jewish high priest was set apart to his office with great solemnity; see Exo. 29:
In things pertaining to God - In religious matters, or with reference to the worship and service of God. He was not to be a civil ruler, nor a teacher of science, nor a military leader, but his business was to superintend the affairs of religion.
That he may offer both gifts - That is, thank-offerings, or oblations which would be the expressions of gratitude. Many such offerings were made by the Jews under the laws of Moses, and the high priest was the medium by whom they were to be presented to God.
And sacrifices for sin - Bloody offerings; offerings made of slain beasts. The blood of expiation was sprinkled by him on the mercyseat, and he was the appointed medium by which such sacrifices were to be presented to God; see the notes at Heb 9:6-10. We may remark here:
(1) that the proper office of a priest is to present a "sacrifice" for sin.
(2) it is "improper" to give the name "priest" to a minister of the gospel. The reason is, that he offers no sacrifice; he sprinkles no blood. He is appointed to "preach the word," and to lead the devotions of the church, but not to offer sacrifice. Accordingly the New Testament preserves entire consistency on this point, for the name "priest" is never once given to the apostles, or to any other minister of the gospel.
Among the Papists there is "consistency" - though gross and dangerous error - in the use of the word "priest." They believe that the minister of religion offers up" the real body and blood of our Lord;" that the bread and wine are changed by the words of consecration into the "body and blood, the soul and divinity, of the Lord Jesus" (Decrees of the Council of Trent), and that "this" is really offered by him as a sacrifice. Accordingly they "elevate the host;" that is, lift up, or offer the sacrifice and, require all to bow before it and worship, and with this view they are "consistent" in retaining the word "priest." But why should this name be applied to a "Protestant" minister, who believes that all this is blasphemy, and who claims to have no "sacrifice" to offer when he comes to minister before God? The great sacrifice; the one sufficient atonement, has been offered - and the ministers of the gospel are appointed to proclaim that truth to men, not to offer sacrifices for sin.
Who can have compassion - Margin, "Reasonably bear with." The idea is that of "sympathizing with." The high priest is taken from among men, in order that he may have a fellow-feeling for those on whose behalf he officiates. Sensible of his own ignorance, he is able to sympathize with those who are ignorant; and compassed about with infirmity, he is able to succour those who have like infirmities.
And on them that are out of the way - The erring, and the guilty. If he were taken from an order of beings superior to people, be would be less qualified to sympathize with those who felt that they were sinners, and who needed pardon.
For that he himself also is compassed with infirmity - see chap. Heb 7:28. He is liable to err; He is subject to temptation; he must die, and appear before God - and encompassed with these infirmities, he is better qualified to minister in behalf of guilty and dying people. For the same reason it is, that the ministers of the gospel are chosen from among people. They are of like passions with others. They are sinners; they are dying men. They can enter into the feelings of those who are conscious of guilt; they can sympathize with those who tremble in dread of death; they can partake of the emotions of those who expect soon to appear before God.
And by reason hereof - Because he is a sinner; an imperfect man. "As for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins." To make an expiation for sins. He needs the same atonement; he offers the sacrifice for himself which he does for others; Lev 9:7. The same thing is true of the ministers of religion now. They come before God feeling that they have need of the benefit of the same atonement which they preach to others; they plead the merits of the same blood for their own salvation which they show to be indispensable for the salvation of others.
And no man taketh this honor to himself - No one has a right to enter on this office unless he has the qualifications which God has prescribed. There were fixed and definite laws in regard to the succession in the office of the high priest, and to the qualifications of him who should hold the office.
But he that is called of God as was Aaron - Aaron was designated by name. It was necessary that his successors should have as clear evidence that they were called of God to the office, as though they had been mentioned by name. The manner in which the high priest was to succeed to the office was designated in the Law of Moses, but in the time of Paul these rules were little regarded. The office had become venal, and was conferred at pleasure by the Roman rulers. Still it was true that according to the Law, to which alone Paul here refers, no one might hold this office but he who had the qualifications which Moses prescribed, and which showed that he was called of God. We may remark here:
(1) that this does not refer so much to an internal, as to an "external" call. He was to have the qualifications prescribed in the Law - but it is not specified that he should be conscious of an internal call to the office, or be influenced by the Holy Spirit to it. Such a call was, doubtless, in the highest degree desirable, but it was not prescribed as an essential qualification.
(2) this has no reference to the call to the work of the Christian ministry, and should not be applied to it. It should not be urged as a proof-text to show that a minister of the gospel should have a "call" directly from God, or that he should be called according to a certain order of succession. The object of Paul is not to state this - whatever may be the truth on this point. His object is, to show that the Jewish high priest was called of God to "his" office in a certain way, showing that he held the appointment from God, and that "therefore" it was necessary that the Great High Priest of the Christian profession should be called in a similar manner. To this alone the comparison should be understood as applicable.
So also Christ glorified not himself; - see the notes at Joh 8:54. The meaning is, that Jesus was not ambitious; that he did not obtrude himself into the great office of high priest; he did not enter upon its duties without being regularly called to it. Paul claimed that Christ held that office; but, as he was not descended front Aaron, and as no one might perform its duties without being regularly called to it, it was incumbent on him to show that Jesus was not an intruder, but had a regular vocation to that work. This he shows by a reference to two passages of the Old Testament.
But he that said unto him - That is, he who said to him "Thou art my Son," exalted him to that office. He received his appointment from him. This was decisive in the case, and this was sufficient, if it could be made out, for the only claim which Aaron and his successors could have to the office, was the fact that they had received their appointment front God.
Thou art my Son - Psa 2:7. See this passage explained in the notes on Act 13:38. It is used here with reference to the designation to the priestly office, though in the Psalm more particularly to the anointing to the office of king. The propriety of this application is founded on the fact that the language in the Psalm is of so general a character, that it may be applied to "any" exaltation of the Redeemer, or to any honor conferred on him. It is used here with strict propriety, for Paul is saying that Jesus did not exalt "himself," and in proof of that he refers to the fact that God had exalted him by calling him his "Son."
As he saith also in another place - Psa 110:4. "Thou art a priest forever." It is evident here that the apostle means to be understood as saying that the Psalm referred to Christ, and this is one of the instances of quotation from the Old Testament respecting which there can be no doubt. Paul makes much of this argument in a subsequent part of this Epistle, Heb. 7 and reasons as if no one would deny that the Psalm had a reference to the Messiah. It is clear from this that the Psalm was understood by the Jews at that time to have such a reference, and that it was so universally admitted that no one would call it in question. That the Psalm refers to the Messiah has been the opinion of nearly all Christian commentators, and has been admitted by the Jewish Rabbis in general also. The "evidence" that it refers to the Messiah is such as the following:
(1) It is a Psalm of David, and yet is spoken of one who was superior to him, and whom he calls his "Lord;" Heb 5:1.
(2) it cannot be referred to Jehovah himself, for he is expressly Heb 5:1 distinguished from him who is here addressed.
(3) it cannot be referred to anyone in the time of David, for there was no one to whom he would attribute this character of superiority but God.
(4) for the same reason there was no one among his posterity, except the Messiah, to whom he would apply this language.
(5) it is expressly ascribed by the Lord Jesus to himself; Mat 22:43-44.
(6) the scope of the Psalm is such as to be applicable to the Messiah, and there is no part of it which would be inconsistent with such a reference. Indeed, there is no passage of the Old Testament of which it would be more universally conceded that there was a reference to the Messiah, than this Psalm.
Thou art a priest - He is not here called a "high priest," for Melchizedek did not bear that title, nor was the Lord Jesus to be a high priest exactly in the sense in which the name was given to Aaron and his successors. A word is used, therefore, in a general sense to denote that he would be a "priest" simply, or would sustain the priestly office. This was all that was needful to the present argument which was, that he was "designated by God" to the priestly office, and that he had not intruded himself into it.
For ever - This was an important circumstance, of which the apostle makes much use in another part of the Epistle; see the notes at Heb 7:8, Heb 7:23-24. The priesthood of the Messiah was not to change from hand to hand; it was not to be laid down at death; it was to remain unchangeably the same.
After the order - The word rendered "order" - τάξις taxis - means "a setting in order - hence, "arrangement" or "disposition." It may be applied to ranks of soldiers; to the gradations of office; or to any rank which men sustain in society. To say that he was of the same "order" with Melchizedek, was to say that he was of the same "rank" or "stations." He was like him in his designation to the office. In what respects he was like him the apostle shows more fully in Heb. 7. "One" particular in which there was a striking resemblance, which did not exist between Christ and any other high priest, was, that Melchizedek was both a "priest" and a "king." None of the kings of the Jews were priests; nor were any of the priests ever elevated to the office of king. But in Melchizedek these offices were united, and this fact constituted a striking resemblance between him and the Lord Jesus. It was on this principle that there was such pertinency in quoting here the passage from the second Psalm; see Heb 5:5. The meaning is, that Melchizedek was of a special rank or order; that he was not numbered with the Levitical priests, and that there were important features in his office which differed from theirs. In those features it was distinctly predicted that the Messiah would resemble him.
Melchisedek - see the notes on Heb 7:1 ff.
Who - That is, the Lord Jesus - for so the connection demands. The object of this verse and the two following is, to show that the Lord Jesus had that qualification for the office of priest to which he had referred in Heb 5:2. It was one important qualification for that office that he who sustained it should be able to show compassion, to aid those that were out of the way, and to sympathize with sufferers; in other words, they were themselves encompassed with infirmity, and thus were able to succour those who were subjected to trials. The apostle shows now that the Lord Jesus had those qualifications, as far as it was possible for one to have them who had no sin. In the days of his flesh he suffered intensely; he prayed with fervor; he placed himself in a situation where he learned subjection and obedience by his trials; and in all this he went far beyond what had been evinced by the priests under the ancient dispensation.
In the days of his flesh - When he appeared on earth as a man. Flesh is used to denote human nature, and especially human nature as susceptible of suffering. The Son of God still is united to human nature, but it is human nature glorified, for in his case, as in all others, "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God," Co1 15:50. He has now a glorified body Phi 3:21, such as the redeemed will have in the future world; compare Rev 1:13-17. The phrase "days of his flesh," means the "time" when he was incarnate, or when he lived on earth in human form. The particular time here referred to, evidently, was the agony in the garden of Gethsemane.
Prayers and supplications - These words are often used to denote the same thing. If there is a difference, the former - δεήσεις deēseis - means petitions which arise "from a sense of need" - from δέομαι deomai - "to want, to need;" the latter refers usually to supplication "for protection," and is applicable to one who under a sense of guilt flees to an altar with the symbols of supplication in his hand. Suppliants in such cases often carried an olive-branch as an emblem of the peace which they sought. A fact is mentioned by Livy respecting the Locrians that may illustrate this passage. "Ten delegates from the Locrians, squalid and covered with rags, came into the hall where the consuls were sitting, extending the badges of suppliants - olive-branches - according to the custom of the Greeks; and prostrated themselves on the ground before the tribunal, with a lamentable cry;" Lib. xxix. 100:16. The particular idea in the word used here - ἱκετηρία hiketēria - is petition for "protection, help," or "shelter" (Passow), and this idea accords well with the design of the passage. The Lord Jesus prayed as one who had "need," and as one who desired "protection, shelter," or "help." The words here, therefore, do not mean the same thing, and are not merely intensive, but they refer to distinct purposes which the Redeemer had in his prayers. He was about to die, and as a man needed the divine help; he was, probably, tempted in that dark hour (see the note, Joh 12:31), and he fled to God for "protection."
With strong crying - This word does not mean "weeping," as the word "crying" does familiarly with us. It rather means an outcry, the voice of wailing and lamentation. It is the cry for help of one who is deeply distressed, or in danger; and refers here to the "earnest petition" of the Saviour when in the agony of Gethsemane or when on the cross. It is the "intensity of the voice" which is referred to when it is raised by an agony of suffering; compare Luk 22:44, "He prayed more earnestly;" Mat 27:46, "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice - My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" see also Mat 26:38-39; Mat 27:50.
And tears - Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus Joh 11:35, and over Jerusalem; Luk 19:41. It is not expressly stated by the Evangelists that he "wept" in the garden of Gethsemane, but there is no reason to doubt that he did. In such an intense agony as to cause a bloody sweat, there is every probability that it would be accompanied with tears. We may remark then:
(1) That there is nothing "dishonorable" in tears and that man should not be ashamed on proper occasions to weep. The fact that the Son of God wept is a full demonstration that it is not disgraceful to weep. God has so made us as to express sympathy for others by tears. Religion does not make the heart insensible and hard as stoical philosophy does; it makes it tender and susceptible to impression.
(2) it is not "improper" to weep. The Son of God wept - and if he poured forth tears it cannot be wrong for us. Besides, it is a great law of our nature that in suffering we should find relief by tears. God would not have so made us if it had been wrong.
(3) the fact that the Son of God thus wept should be allowed deeply to effect our hearts.
"He wept that we might weep;
Each sin demands a tear."
He wept that he might redeem us we should weep that our sins were so great as to demand such bitter woes for our salvation. That we had sinned; that our sins caused him such anguish; that he endured for us this bitter conflict, should make us weep. Tear should answer to tear, and sigh respond to sigh, and groan to groan, when we contemplate the sorrows of the Son of God in accomplishing our redemption. That man must have a hard heart who has never had an emotion when he has reflected that the Son of God wept, and bled, and died for him.
Unto him that was able - To God. He alone was able then to save. In such a conflict man could not aid, and the help of angels, ready as they were to assist him, could not sustain him. We may derive aid from man in trial; we may be comforted by sympathy and counsel; but there are sorrows where God only can uphold the sufferer. That God was "able" to uphold him in his severe conflict, the Redeemer could not doubt; nor need "we" doubt it in reference to ourselves when deep sorrows come over our souls.
To save him from death - It would seem from this, that what constituted the agony of the Redeemer was the dread of death, and that he prayed that he might be saved from that. This might be, so far as the language is concerned, either the dread of death on the spot by the intensity of his sufferings and by the power of the tempter, or it might be the dread of the approaching death on the cross. As the Redeemer, however, knew that he was to die on the cross, it can hardly be supposed that he apprehended death in the garden of Gethsemane. What he prayed for was, that, if it were possible, he might be spared from a death so painful as he apprehended; Mat 26:39. Feeling that God had "power" to save him from that mode of dying, the burden of his petition was, that, if human redemption could be accomplished without such sufferings, it might please his Father to remove that cup from him.
And was heard - In Joh 11:42, the Saviour says," I know that thou hearest me always." In the garden of Gethsemane, he was heard. His prayer was not disregarded, though it was not" literally" answered. The cup of death was not taken away; but his prayer was not disregarded. What answer was given; what assurance or support was imparted to his soul, we are not informed. The case, however, shows us:
(1) That prayer may be heard even when the sufferings which are dreaded, and from which we prayed to be delivered, may come upon us. They may come with such assurances of divine favor, and such supports, as will be full proof that the prayer was not disregarded.
(2) that prayer offered in faith may not be always" literally answered." No one can doubt that Jesus offered the prayer of faith; and it is as little to be doubted, if he referred in the prayer to the death on the cross, that it was not "literally" answered; compare Mat 26:39. In like manner, it may occur now, that prayer shall be offered with every right feeling, and with an earnest desire for the object, which may not be literally answered. Christians, even in the highest exercise of faith, are not inspired to know what is best for them, and as long as this is the case, it is possible that they may ask for things which it would not be best to have granted. They who maintain that the prayer of faith is always literally answered, must hold that the Christian is under such a guidance of the Spirit of God that he cannot ask anything amiss; see the notes on Co2 12:9.
In that he feared - Margin, "For his piety." Coverdale, "Because he had God in honor." Tyndale, "Because he had God in reverence." Prof. Stuart renders it, "And was delivered from what he feared." So also Doddridge. Whitby, "Was delivered from his fear." Luther renders it, "And was heard for that he had God in reverence" - "dass er Gott in Ehren hatte." Beza renders it, "His prayers being heard, he was delivered, from fear." From this variety in translating the passage, it will be seen at once that it is attended with difficulty. The Greek is literally "from fear or reverence" - ἀπὸ της εὐλαβείας apo tēs eulabeias. The word occurs in the New Testament only in one other place, Heb 12:28, where it is rendered "fear." "Let us serve him with reverence and godly fear." The word properly means "caution, circumspection;" then timidity, fear; then the fear of God, reverence, piety.
Where the most distinguished scholars have differed as to the meaning of a Greek phrase, it would be presumption in me to attempt to determine its sense. The most natural and obvious interpretation, however, as it seems to me, is, that it means that he was heard on account of his reverence for God; his profound veneration; his submission. Such was his piety that the prayer was "heard," though it was not literally answered. A prayer may be "heard" and yet not literally answered; it may be acceptable to God, though it may not consist with his arrangements to bestow the very blessing that is sought. The posture of the mind of the Redeemer perhaps was something like this. He knew that he was about to be put to death in a most cruel manner. His tender and sensitive nature as a man shrank from such a death. As a man he went under the pressure of his great sorrows and pleaded that the cup might be removed, and that man might be redeemed by a less fearful scene of suffering.
That arrangement, however, could not be made. Yet the spirit which he evinced; the desire to do the will of God; the resignation, and the confidence in his Father which he evinced, were such as were acceptable in his sight. They showed that he had unconquerable virtue; that no power of temptation, and no prospect of the intensest woes which human nature could endure, could alienate him from piety. To show this was an object of inestimable value, and much as it cost the Saviour was worth it all. So now it is worth much to see what Christian piety can endure; what strong temptations it can resist; and what strength it has to hear up under accumulated woes; and even though the prayer of the pious sufferer is not directly answered, yet, that prayer is acceptable to God, and the result of such a trial is worth all that it costs.
Though he were a Son - Though the Son of God. Though he sustained this exalted rank, and was conscious of it, yet he was willing to learn experimentally what is meant by obedience in the midst of sufferings.
Yet learned he obedience - That is, he learned experimentally and practically. It cannot be supposed that he did not "know" what obedience was; or that he was "indisposed" to obey God before he suffered; or that he had, as we have, perversities of nature leading to rebellion which required to be subdued by suffering, but that he was willing to "test" the power of obedience in sufferings; to become personally and practically acquainted with the nature of such obedience in the midst of protracted woes; compare note on Phi 2:8. The "object" here is, to show how well suited the Lord Jesus was to be a Saviour for mankind; and the argument is, that he has set us an example, and has shown that the most perfect obedience may be manifested in the deepest sorrows of the body and the soul. Hence, learn that one of the objects of affliction is to lead us "to obey God." In prosperity we forget it. We become self-confident and rebellious. "Then" God lays his hand upon us; breaks up our plans; crushes our hopes; takes away our health, and teaches us that we "must" be submissive to his will. Some of the most valuable lessons of obedience are learned in the furnace of affliction; and many of the most submissive children of the Almighty have been made so as the result of protracted woes.
And being made perfect - That is, being made a "complete" Saviour - a Saviour suited in all respects to redeem people. Sufferings were necessary to the "completeness" or the "finish" of his character as a Saviour, not to his moral perfection, for he was always without sin; see this explained in the notes on Heb 2:10.
He became the author - That is, he was the procuring cause (αἴτιος aitios) of salvation. It is to be traced wholly to his sufferings and death; see the note, Heb 2:10. "Unto all them that obey him." It is not to save those who live in sin. Only those who "obey" him have any evidence that they will be saved; see the note, Joh 14:15.
Called of God - Addressed by him, or greeted by him. The word used here does not mean that he was "appointed" by God, or "called" to the office, in the sense in which we often use the word, but simply that he was "addressed" as such, to wit, in Psa 110:1-7;
An high priest - In the Septuagint Psa 110:4, and in Heb 5:6, above, it is rendered "priest" - ἱερεύς hiereus - but the Hebrew word - כהן kohēn - is often used to denote the high priest, and may mean either; see Septuagint in Lev 4:3. Whether the word "priest," or "high priest," be used here, does not affect the argument of the apostle. "After the order of Melchizedek." see the notes at Heb 5:6.
Of whom we have many things to say - There are many things which seem strange in regard to him; many things which are hard to be understood. Paul knew that what be had to say of this man as a type of the Redeemer would excite wonder, and that many might be disposed to call it in question. He knew that in order to be understood, what he was about to say required a familiar acquaintance with the Scriptures, and a strong and elevated faith. A young convert; one who had just commenced the Christian life, could hardly expect to be able to understand it. The same thing is true now. One of the first questions which a young convert often asks, is, Who was Melchizedek? And one of the things which most uniformly perplex those who begin to study the Bible, is, the statement which is made about this remarkable man.
Hard to be uttered - Rather, hard to be "interpreted," or "explained." So the Greek word means.
Seeing ye are dull of hearing - That is, when they ought to have been acquainted with the higher truths of religion, they had shown that they received them slowly, and were dull of apprehension. On what particular "fact" Paul grounded this charge respecting them is unknown; nor could we know, unless we were better acquainted with the persons to whom he wrote, and their circumstances, than we now are. But he had doubtless in his eye some fact which showed that they were slow to understand the great principles of the gospel.
For when for the time - Considering the time which has elapsed since you were converted. You have been Christians long enough to he expected to understand such doctrines. This verse proves that those to whom he wrote were not recent converts.
Ye ought to be teachers - You ought to be able to instruct others. He does not mean to say, evidently, that they ought all to become public teachers, or preachers of the gospel, but that they ought to be able to explain to others the truths of the Christian religion. As parents they ought to be able to explain them to their children; as neighbors, to their neighbors; or as friends, to those who were inquiring the way to life.
Ye have need - That is, probably, the mass of them had need. As a people, or a church, they had shown that they were ignorant of some of the very elements of the gospel.
Again - This shows that they "had been" taught on some former occasion what were the first principles of religion, but they had not followed, up the teaching as they ought to have done.
The first principles - The very elements; the rudiments; the first lessons - such as children learn before they advance to higher studies. See the word used here explained in the notes on Gal 4:3, under the word "elements." The Greek word is the same.
Of the oracles of God - Of the Scriptures, or what God has spoken; see the notes on Rom 3:2. The phrase here may refer to the writings of the Old Testament, and particularly to those parts which relate to the Messiah; or it may include all that God had at that time revealed in whatever way it was preserved; in Pe1 4:11, it is used with reference to the Christian religion, and to the doctrines which God had revealed in the gospel. In the passage before us, it may mean" the divine oracles or communications," in whatever way they had been made known. They had shown that they were ignorant of the very rudiments of the divine teaching.
And are become such - There is more meant in this phrase than that they simply "were" such persons. The word rendered "are become" - γίνομαι ginomai - sometimes implies "a change of state," or a passing from one state to another - well expressed by the phrase "are become;" see Mat 5:45; Mat 4:3; Mat 13:32; Mat 6:16; Mat 10:25; Mar 1:17; Rom 7:3-4. The idea here is, that they had passed from the hopeful condition in which they were when they showed that they had an acquaintance with the great principles of the gospel, and that they had become such as to need again the most simple form of instruction. This agrees well with the general strain of the Epistle, which is to preserve them from the danger of apostasy. They were verging toward it, and had come to that state where if they were recovered it must be by being again taught the elements of religion.
Have need of milk - Like little children. You can bear only the most simple nourishment. The meaning is, that they were incapable of receiving the higher doctrines of the gospel as much as little children are incapable of digesting solid food. They were in fact in a state of spiritual infancy.
And not of strong meat - Greek. "Strong food." The word "meat" with us is used now to denote only animal food. Formerly it meant food in general. The Greek word here means "nourishment."
For every one that useth milk - Referring to the food of children. The apostle has in view here those Christians who resemble children in this respect, that they are not capable of receiving the stronger food adapted to those of mature age.
Is unskilful - Inexperienced; who has not skill to perform anything. The word is properly applied to one who has not experience or skill, or who is ignorant. Here it does not mean that they were not true Christians - but that they had not the experience or skill requisite to enable them to understand the higher mysteries of the Christian religion.
In the word of righteousness - The doctrine respecting the way in which men become righteous, or the way of salvation by the Redeemer; see the notes on Rom 1:17.
For He is a babe - That is, in religious matters. He understands the great system only as a child may. It is common to speak of "babes in knowledge," as denoting a state of ignorance.
Strong meat - Solid food pertains to those of maturer years. So it is with the higher doctrines of Christianity. They can be understood and appreciated only by those who are advanced in Christian experience.
Of full age - Margin, "Perfect." The expression refers to those who are grown up.
Who by reason of use - Margin, Or, "an habit," or, "perfection." Coverdale and Tyndale render it, "through custom." The Greek word means "habit, practice." The meaning is, that by long use and habit they had arrived to that state in which they could appreciate the more elevated doctrines of Christianity. The reference in the use of this word is not to those who "eat food" - meaning that by long use they are able to distinguish good from bad - but it is to experienced Christians, who by long experience are able to distinguish what is useful in pretended religious instruction from what is injurious. It refers to the delicate taste which an experienced Christian has in regard to those doctrines which impart most light and consolation. Experience will thus enable one to discern what is suited to the soul of man; what elevates and purifies the affections, and what tends to draw the heart near to God.
Have their senses - The word used here means properly "the senses" - as we use the term; the seat of sensation, the smell, taste, etc. Then it means "the internal sense," the faculty of perceiving truth; and this is the idea here. The meaning is, that by long experience Christians come to be able to understand the more elevated doctrines of Christianity; they see their beauty and value, and they are able carefully and accurately to distinguish them from error; compare the notes at Joh 7:17.
To discern both good and evil - That is, in doctrine. They will appreciate and understand what is true; they will reject what is false.
1. Let us rejoice that we have a High Priest who is duly called to take upon himself the functions of that great office, and who lives forever: Heb 5:1. True, he was not of the tribe of Levi; he was not a descendant of Aaron; but he had a more noble elevation, and a more exalted rank. He was the Son of God, and was called to his office by special divine designation. He did not obtrude himself into the work; he did not unduly exalt himself, but he was directly called to it by the appointment of God. When, moreover, the Jewish high priests could look back on the long line of their ancestors, and trace the succession up to Aaron, it was in the power of the great High Priest; of the Christian faith to look further back still, and to be associated in the office with one of higher antiquity than Aaron, and of higher rank - one of the most remarkable men of all ancient times - he whom Abraham acknowledged as his superior, and from whom Abraham received the benediction.
2. It is not unmanly to weep; Heb 5:7. The Son of God poured out prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears. He wept at the grave of Lazarus, and he wept over Jerusalem. If the Redeemer wept, it is not unmanly to weep; and we should not be ashamed to have tears seen streaming down our cheeks. Tears are appointed by God to be the natural expression of sorrow, and often to furnish a relief to a burdened soul. We instinctively honor the man whom we see weeping when there is occasion for grief. We sympathize with him in his sorrow, and we love him the more. When we see a father who could face the cannon's mouth without shrinking, yet weeping over the open grave of a daughter, we honor him more than we could otherwise do. He shows that he has a heart that can love and feel, as well as courage that can meet danger without alarm. Washington wept when he signed the death-warrant of Major Andre; and who ever read the affecting account without feeling that his character was the more worthy of our love? There is enough in the world to make us weep. Sickness, calamity, death, are around us. They come into our dwellings, and our dearest objects of affection are taken away, and "God intends" that we shall deeply feel. Tears here will make heaven more sweet; and our sorrows on earth are intended to prepare us for the joy of that day when it shall be announced to us that" all tears shall be wiped away from every face."
3. We see the propriety of prayer in view of approaching death; Heb 5:7. The Redeemer prayed when he felt that he must die. We know, also, that we must die. True, we shall not suffer as he did. He had pangs on the cross which no other dying man ever bore. But death to us is an object of dread. The hour of death is a fearful hour. The scene when a man dies is a gloomy scene. The sunken eye, the pallid cheek, the clammy sweat, the stiffened corpse, the coffin, the shroud, the grave, are all sad and gloomy things. We know not, too, what severe pangs we may have when we die. Death may come to us in some especially fearful form; and in view of his approach in any way, we should pray. Pray, dying man, that you may be prepared for that sad hour; pray, that you may not be left to complain, and rebel, and murmur then; pray that you may lie down in calmness and peace; pray that you may be enabled to "honor God even in death."
4. It is not sinful to dread death; Heb 5:7. The Redeemer dreaded it. His human nature, though perfectly holy, shrank back from the fearful agonies of dying. The fear of death, therefore, in itself is not sinful. Christians are often troubled because they have not that calmness in the prospect of death which they suppose they ought to have, and because their nature shrinks back from the dying pang. They suppose that such feelings are inconsistent with religion, and that they who have them cannot be true Christians. But they forget their Redeemer and his sorrows; they forget the earnestness with which he pleaded that the cup might be removed. Death is in itself fearful, and it is a part of our nature to dread it, and even in the best of minds sometimes the fear of it is not wholly taken away until the hour comes, and God gives them "dying grace." There are probably two reasons why God made death so fearful to man:
(1) One is, to impress him with the importance of being prepared for it. Death is to him the entrance on an endless being, and it is an object of God to keep the attention fixed on that as a most momentous and solemn event. The ox, the lamb, the robin, the dove, have no immortal nature; no conscience; no responsibility, and no need of making preparation for death - and hence - except in a very slight degree - they seem to have no dread of dying. But not so with man. He has an undying soul. His main business here is to prepare for death and for the world beyond, and hence, by all the fear of the dying pang, and by all the horror of the grave, God would fix the attention of man on his own death as a most momentous event, and lead him to seek that hope of immortality which alone can lay the foundation for any proper removal of the fear of dying.
(2) the other reason is, to deter man from taking his own life. To keep him from this, he is made so as to start back from death. He fears it; it is to him an object of deepest dread, and even when pressed down by calamity and sadness, as a general law, he "had rather bear the ills he has, than fly to others that he knows not of." Man is the only creature in reference to whom this danger exists. There is no one of the brute creation, unless it be the scorpion, that will take its own life, and hence, they have not such a dread of dying. But we know how it is with man. Weary of life; goaded by a guilty conscience; disappointed and heart-broken, he is under strong temptation to commit the enormous crime of self-murder, and to rush uncalled to the bar of God. As one of the means of deterring from this, God has so made us that we fear to die; and thousands are kept from this enormous crime by this fear, when nothing else would save them. It is benevolence, therefore, to the world, that man is afraid to die - and in every pang of the dying struggle, and everything about death that makes us turn pale and tremble at its approach, there is in some way the manifestation of goodness to mankind.
5. We may be comforted in the prospect of death by looking to the example of the Redeemer; Heb 5:7. Much as we may fear to die, and much as we may be left to suffer then, of one thing we may be sure. It is, that he has gone beyond us in suffering. The sorrows of our dying will never equal his. We shall never go through such scenes as occurred in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. It may be some consolation that human nature has endured greater pangs than we shall, and that there is one who has surpassed us even in our keenest sufferings. It "should" be to us a source of consolation, also of the highest kind, that he did it that he might alleviate our sorrows, and that he might drive away the horrors of death from us by "bringing life and immortality to light," and that as the result of his sufferings our dying moments may be calm and peaceful.
6. It often occurs that people are true Christians, and yet are ignorant of some of the elementary principles of religion; Heb 5:12. This is owing to such things as the following; a want of early religious instruction; the faults of preachers who fail to teach their people; a want of inquiry on the part of Christians, and the interest which they feel in other things above what they feel in religion. It is often surprising what vague and unsettled opinions many professed Christians have on some of the most important points of Christianity, and how little qualified they are to defend their opinions when they are attacked. Of multitudes in the Church even now it might be said, that they "need some one to teach them what are the very first principles of true religion." To some of the "elementary" doctrines of Christianity about deadness to the world, about self-denial, about prayer, about doing good, and about spirituality, they are utter strangers. So of forgiveness of injuries, and charity, and love for a dying world. These are the "elements" of Christianity - rudiments which children in righteousness should learn; and yet they are not learned by multitudes who bear the Christian name.
7. All Christians ought to be "teachers;" Heb 5:12. I do not mean that they should all be "preachers;" but they should all so live as to "teach" others the true nature of religion. This they should do by their example, and by their daily conversation. Any Christian is qualified to impart useful instruction to others. The servant of lowest rank may teach his master how a Christian should live. A child may thus teach a parent how he should live, and his daily walk may furnish to the parent lessons of inestimable value. Neighbors may thus teach neighbors; and strangers may learn of strangers. Every Christian has a knowledge of the way to be saved which it would be of the highest value to others to know, and is qualified to tell the rich, and proud, and learned sinner, that about himself and of the final destiny of man of which he is now wholly ignorant. Let it be remembered, also, that the world derives its views of the nature of religion from the lives and conduct of its professed friends. It is not from the Bible, or from the pulpit, or from books, that people learn what Christianity is; it is from the daily walk of those who profess to be its friends; and every day we live, a wife, a child, a neighbor, or a stranger, is forming some view of the nature of religion from what they see in us. How important, therefore, it is that we so live as to communicate to them just views of what constitutes religion!