Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The nature of the high priesthood of Christ; his pre-eminence, qualifications, and order, Heb 5:1-10. Imperfect state of the believing Hebrews, and the necessity of spiritual improvement, Heb 5:11-14.
For every high priest taken from among men - This seems to refer to Lev 21:10, where it is intimated that the high priest shall be taken מאחיו meachaiv, from his brethren; i.e. he shall be of the tribe of Levi, and of the family of Aaron.
Is ordained for men - Ὑπερ ανθρωπων καθισταται τα προς τον Θεον· Is appointed to preside over the Divine worship in those things which relate to man's salvation.
That he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins - God ever appeared to all his followers in two points of view:
1. As the author and dispenser of all temporal good.
2. As their lawgiver and judge. In reference to this twofold view of the Divine Being, his worship was composed of two different parts:
1. Offerings or gifts.
1. As the creator and dispenser of all good, he had offerings by which his bounty and providence were acknowledged.
2. As the lawgiver and judge, against whose injunctions offenses had been committed, he had sacrifices offered to him to make atonement for sin.
The δωρα, or gifts, mentioned here by the apostle, included every kind of eucharistical offering. The θυσιαι, sacrifices, included victims of every sort, or animals whose lives were to be offered in sacrifice, and their blood poured out before God, as an atonement for sins. The high priest was the mediator between God and the people; and it was his office, when the people had brought these gifts and sacrifices, to offer them to God in their behalf. The people could not legitimately offer their own offerings, they must be all brought to the priest, and he alone could present them to God. As we have a high priest over the house of God, to offer all our gifts and his own sacrifice, therefore we may come with boldness to the throne of grace. See above.
Who can have compassion on the ignorant - The word μετριοπαθειν, signifies, not merely to have compassion, but to act with moderation, and to bear with each in proportion to his ignorance, weakness, and untoward circumstances, all taken into consideration with the offenses he has committed: in a word, to pity, feel for, and excuse, as far as possible; and, when the provocation is at the highest, to moderate one's passion towards the culprit, and be ready to pardon; and when punishment must be administered, to do it in the gentlest manner.
Instead of αγνοουσι, the ignorant, one MS. only, but that of high repute, has ασθενουσι, the weak. Most men sin much through ignorance, but this does not excuse them if they have within reach the means of instruction. And the great majority of the human race sin through weakness. The principle of evil is strong in them; the occasions of sin are many; through their fall from God they are become exceedingly weak; and what the apostle calls, Heb 12:1, that ευπεριστατον ἁμαρτιαν, the well-circumstanced sin, often occurs to every man. But, as in the above ease, weakness itself is no excuse, when the means of strength and succor are always at hand. However, all these are circumstances which the Jewish high priest took into consideration, and they are certainly not less attended to by the High Priest of our profession.
The reason given why the high priest should be slow to punish and prone to forgive is, that he himself is also compassed with weakness; περικειται ασθενειαν; weakness lies all around him, it is his clothing; and as he feels his clothing, so should he feel it; and as he feels it, so he should deplore it, and compassionate others.
And by reason hereof - As he is also a transgressor of the commands of God, and unable to observe the law in its spirituality, he must offer sacrifices for sin, not only for the people, but for himself also: this must teach him to have a fellow feeling for others.
This honor - Την τιμην undoubtedly signifies here the office, which is one meaning of the word in the best Greek writers. It is here an honorable office, because the man is the high priest of God, and is appointed by God himself to that office.
But he that is called of God, as was Aaron - God himself appointed the tribe and family out of which the high priest was to be taken, and Aaron and his sons were expressly chosen by God to fill the office of the high priesthood. As God alone had the right to appoint his own priest for the Jewish nation, and man had no authority here; so God alone could provide and appoint a high priest for the whole human race. Aaron was thus appointed for the Jewish people; Christ, for all mankind.
Some make this "an argument for the uninterrupted succession of popes and their bishops in the Church, who alone have the authority to ordain for the sacerdotal office; and whosoever is not thus appointed is, with them, illegitimate." It is idle to employ time in proving that there is no such thing as an uninterrupted succession of this kind; it does not exist, it never did exist. It is a silly fable, invented by ecclesiastical tyrants, and supported by clerical coxcombs. But were it even true, it has nothing to do with the text. It speaks merely of the appointment of a high priest, the succession to be preserved in the tribe of Levi, and in the family of Aaron. But even this succession was interrupted and broken, and the office itself was to cease on the coming of Christ, after whom there could be no high priest; nor can Christ have any successor, and therefore he is said to be a priest for ever, for he ever liveth the intercessor and sacrifice for mankind. The verse, therefore, has nothing to do with the clerical office, with preaching God's holy word, or administering the sacraments; and those who quote it in this way show how little they understand the Scriptures, and how ignorant they are of the nature of their own office.
Christ glorified not himself - The man Jesus Christ, was also appointed by God to this most awful yet glorious office, of being the High Priest of the whole human race. The Jewish high priest represented this by the sacrifices of beasts which he offered; the Christian High Priest must offer his own life: Jesus Christ did so; and, rising from the dead, he ascended to heaven, and there ever appeareth in the presence of God for us. Thus he has reassumed the sacerdotal office; and because he never dies, he can never have a successor. He can have no vicars, either in heaven or upon earth; those who pretend to be such are impostors, and are worthy neither of respect nor credit.
Thou art my Son - See on Heb 1:5 (note), and the observations at the end of that chapter. And thus it appears that God can have no high priest but his Son; and to that office none can now pretend without blasphemy, for the Son of God is still the High Priest in his temple.
He saith also in another place - That is, in Psa 110:4, a psalm of extraordinary importance, containing a very striking prediction of the birth, preaching, suffering, death, and conquests of the Messiah. See the notes on Psa 110:4. For the mode of quotation here, See the note on Heb 2:6.
Thou art a priest for ever - As long as the sun and moon endure, Jesus will continue to be high priest to all the successive generations of men, as he was the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. If he be a priest for ever, there can be no succession of priests; and if he have all power in heaven and in earth, and if he be present wherever two or three are gathered together in his name, he can have no vicars; nor can the Church need one to act in his place, when he, from the necessity of his nature, fills all places, and is everywhere present. This one consideration nullifies all the pretensions of the Romish pontiff, and proves the whole to be a tissue of imposture.
After the order of Melchisedec - Who this person was must still remain a secret. We know nothing more of him than is written in Gen 14:18 (note), etc., where see the notes, and particularly the observations at the end of that chapter, in which this very mysterious person is represented as a type of Christ.
Who in the days of his flesh - The time of his incarnation, during which he took all the infirmities of human nature upon him, and was afflicted in his body and human soul just as other men are, irregular and sinful passions excepted.
Offered up prayers and supplications - This is one of the most difficult places in this epistle, if not in the whole of the New Testament. The labors of learned men upon it have been prodigious; and even in their sayings it is hard to find the meaning.
I shall take a general view of this and the two following verses, and then examine the particular expressions.
It is probable that the apostle refers to something in the agony of our Lord, which the evangelists have not distinctly marked.
The Redeemer of the world appears here as simply man; but he is the representative of the whole human race. He must make expiation for sin by suffering, and he can suffer only as man. Suffering was as necessary as death; for man, because he has sinned, must suffer, and because he has broken the law, should die. Jesus took upon himself the nature of man, subject to all the trials and distresses of human nature. He is now making atonement; and he begins with sufferings, as sufferings commence with human life; and he terminates with death, as that is the end of human existence in this world. Though he was the Son of God, conceived and born without sin, or any thing that could render him liable to suffering or death, and only suffered and died through infinite condescension; yet, to constitute him a complete Savior, he must submit to whatever the law required; and therefore he is stated to have learned Obedience by the things which he suffered, Heb 5:8, that is, subjection to all the requisitions of the law; and being made perfect, that is, having finished the whole by dying, he, by these means, became the author of eternal salvation to all them who obey him, Heb 5:9; to them who, according to his own command, repent and believe the Gospel, and, under the influence of his Spirit, walk in holiness of life. "But he appears to be under the most dreadful apprehension of death; for he offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto him that was able to save him from death, Heb 5:7." I shall consider this first in the common point of view, and refer to the subsequent notes. This fear of death was in Christ a widely different thing from what it is in men; they fear death because of what lies beyond the grave; they have sinned, and they are afraid to meet their Judge. Jesus could have no fear on these grounds: he was now suffering for man, and he felt as their expiatory victim; and God only can tell, and perhaps neither men nor angels can conceive, how great the suffering and agony must be which, in the sight of infinite Justice, was requisite to make this atonement. Death, temporal and eternal, was the portion of man; and now Christ is to destroy death by agonizing and dying! The tortures and torments necessary to effect this destruction Jesus Christ alone could feel, Jesus Christ alone could sustain, Jesus Christ alone can comprehend. We are referred to them in this most solemn verse; but the apostle himself only drops hints, he does not attempt to explain them: he prayed; he supplicated with strong crying and tears; and he was heard in reference to that which he feared. His prayers, as our Mediator, were answered; and his sufferings and death were complete and effectual as our sacrifice. This is the glorious sum of what the apostle here states; and it is enough. We may hear it with awful respect; and adore him with silence whose grief had nothing common in it to that of other men, and is not to be estimated according to the measures of human miseries. It was: -
A weight of wo, more than whole worlds could bear.
I shall now make some remarks on particular expressions, and endeavor to show that the words may be understood with a shade of difference from the common acceptation.
Prayers and supplications, etc. - There may be an allusion here to the manner in which the Jews speak of prayer, etc. "Rabbi Yehudah said: All human things depend on repentance and the prayers which men make to the holy blessed God; especially if tears be poured out with the prayers. There is no gate which tears will not pass through." Sohar, Exod., fol. 5.
"There are three degrees of prayer, each surpassing the other in sublimity; prayer, crying, and tears: prayer is made in silence; crying, with a loud voice; but tears surpass all." Synops. Sohar, p. 33.
The apostle shows that Christ made every species of prayer, and those especially by which they allowed a man must be successful with his Maker.
The word ἱκετηριας, which we translate supplications, exists in no other part of the New Testament. Ἱκετης signifies a supplicant, from ἱκομαι, I come or approach; it is used in this connection by the purest Greek writers. Nearly the same words are found in Isocrates, De Pace: Ἱκετηριας πολλας και δεησεις ποιουμενοι. Making many supplications and prayers. Ἱκετηρια, says Suidas, καλειται ελαιας κλαδος, στεμματι εστεμμενος· - εστιν, ἡν οἱ δεομενοι κατατιθενται που, η μετα χειρας εχουσις· "Hiketeria is a branch of olive, rolled round with wool - is what suppliants were accustomed to deposite in some place, or to carry in their hands." And ἱκετης , hiketes, he defines to be, ὁ δουλοπρεπως παρακαλων, και δεομενος περι τινος ὁτουουν· "He who, in the most humble and servile manner, entreats and begs any thing from another." In reference to this custom the Latins used the phrase velamenta pratendere, "to hold forth these covered branches," when they made supplication; and Herodian calls them ἱκετηριας θαλλους, "branches of supplication." Livy mentions the custom frequently; see lib. xxv. cap. 25: lib. xxix. c. 16; lib. xxxv. c. 34; lib. xxxvi. c. 20. The place in lib. xxix. c. 16, is much to the point, and shows us the full force of the word, and nature of the custom. "Decem legati Locrensium, obsiti squalore et sordibus, in comitio sedentibus consulibus velamenta supplicium, ramos oleae (ut Graecis mos est), porrigentes, ante tribunal cum flebili vociferatione humi procubuerunt." "Ten delegates from the Locrians, squalid and covered with rags, came into the hall where the consuls were sitting, holding out in their hands olive branches covered with wool, according to the custom of the Greeks; and prostrated themselves on the ground before the tribunal, with weeping and loud lamentation." This is a remarkable case, and may well illustrate our Lord's situation and conduct. The Locrians, pillaged, oppressed, and ruined by the consul, Q. Plemmius, send their delegates to the Roman government to implore protection and redress they, the better to represent their situation, and that of their oppressed fellow citizens, take the hiketeria, or olive branch wrapped round with wool, and present themselves before the consuls in open court, and with wailing and loud outcries make known their situation. The senate heard, arrested Plemmius, loaded him with chains, and he expired in a dungeon. Jesus Christ, the representative of and delegate from the whole human race, oppressed and ruined by Satan and sin, with the hiketeria, or ensign of a most distressed suppliant, presents himself before the throne of God, with strong crying and tears, and prays against death and his ravages, in behalf of those whose representative he was; and he was heard in that he feared - the evils were removed, and the oppressor cast down. Satan was bound, he was spoiled of his dominion, and is reserved in chains of darkness to the judgment of the great day.
Every scholar will see that the words of the Roman historian answer exactly to those of the apostle; and the allusion in both is to the same custom. I do not approve of allegorizing or spiritualizing; but the allusion and similarity of the expressions led me to make this application. Many others would make more of this circumstance, as the allusion in the text is so pointed to this custom. Should it appear to any of my readers that I should, after the example of great names, have gone into this house of Rimmon, and bowed myself there, they will pardon their servant in this thing.
To save him from death - I have already observed that Jesus Christ was the representative of the human race; and have made some observations on the peculiarity of his sufferings, following the common acceptation of the words in the text, which things are true, howsoever the text may be interpreted. But here we may consider the pronoun αυτον, him, as implying the collective body of mankind; the children who were partakers of flesh and blood, Heb 2:14; the seed of Abraham, Heb 2:16, who through fear of death were all their life subject to bondage. So he made supplication with strong crying and tears to him who was able to save Them from death; for I consider the τουτους, them, of Heb 2:15, the same or implying the same thing as αυτον, him, in this verse; and, thus understood, all the difficulty vanishes away. On this interpretation I shall give a paraphrase of the whole verse: Jesus Christ, in the days of his flesh, (for he was incarnated that he might redeem the seed of Abraham, the fallen race of man), and in his expiatory sufferings, when representing the whole human race, offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, to him who was able to save Them from death: the intercession was prevalent, the passion and sacrifice were accepted, the sting of death was extracted, and Satan was dethroned.
If it should be objected that this interpretation occasions a very unnatural change of person in these verses, I may reply that the change made by my construction is not greater than that made between Heb 5:6 and Heb 5:7; in the first of which the apostle speaks of Melchisedec, who at the conclusion of the verse appears to be antecedent to the relative who in Heb 5:7; and yet, from the nature of the subject, we must understand Christ to be meant. And I consider, Heb 5:8, Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered, as belonging, not only to Christ considered in his human nature, but also to him in his collective capacity; i.e., belonging to all the sons and daughters of God, who, by means of suffering and various chastisements, learn submission, obedience and righteousness; and this very subject the apostle treats in considerable detail in Heb 12:2-11 (note), to which the reader will do well to refer.
Though he were a Son - See the whole of the preceding note.
And being made perfect - Και τελειωθεις· And having finished all - having died and risen again. Τελειωθηναι signifies to have obtained the goal; to have ended one's labor, and enjoyed the fruits of it. Heb 12:23 : The spirits of just men made perfect, πνευμασι δικαιων τετελειωμενων, means the souls of those who have gained the goal, and obtained the prize. So, when Christ had finished his course of tremendous sufferings, and consummated the whole by his death and resurrection, he became αιτιος σωτηριας αιωνιου, the cause of eternal salvation unto all them who obey him. He was consecrated both highs priest and sacrifice by his offering upon the cross.
"In this verse," says Dr. Macknight, "three things are clearly stated:
1. That obedience to Christ is equally necessary to salvation with believing on him.
2. That he was made perfect as a high priest by offering himself a sacrifice for sin, Heb 8:3.
3. That, by the merit of that sacrifice, he hath obtained pardon and eternal life for them who obey him."
He tasted death for every man; but he is the author and cause of eternal salvation only to them who obey him. It is not merely believers, but obedient believers, that shall be finally saved. Therefore this text is an absolute, unimpeachable evidence, that it is not the imputed obedience of Christ that saves any man. Christ has bought men by his blood; and by the infinite merit of his death he has purchased for them an endless glory; but, in order to be prepared for it, the sinner must, through that grace which God withholds from no man, repent, turn from sin, believe on Jesus as being a sufficient ransom and sacrifice for his soul, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, be a worker together with him, walk in conformity to the Divine will through this Divine aid, and continue faithful unto death, through him, out of whose fullness he may receive grace upon grace.
Called of God a high priest - Προσαγορευθεις· Being constituted, hailed, and acknowledged to be a high priest. In Hesychius we find προσαγορευει, which he translates ασπαζεται· hence we learn that one meaning of this word is to salute; as when a man was constituted or anointed king, those who accosted him would say, Hail king! On this verse Dr. Macknight has the following note, with the insertion of which the reader will not be displeased: "As our Lord, in his conversation with the Pharisees, recorded Mat 22:43, spake of it as a thing certain of itself, and universally known and acknowledged by the Jews, that David wrote the 110th Psalm by inspiration, concerning the Christ or Messiah; the apostle was well founded in applying the whole of that Psalm to Jesus. Wherefore, having quoted the fourth verse, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec, as directed to Messiah, David's Lord, he justly termed that speech of the Deity a salutation of Jesus, according to the true import of the word προσαγορευθεις, which properly signifies to address one by his name, or title, or office; accordingly Hesychius explains προσαγορευομαι by ασπαζομαι. Now, that the deep meaning of this salutation may be understood, I observe, First, that, by the testimony of the inspired writers, Jesus sat down at the right hand of God when he returned to heaven, after having finished his ministry upon earth; Mar 16:19; Act 7:56; Heb 1:3; Heb 8:1; Pe1 3:22. Not, however, immediately, but after that he had offered the sacrifice of himself in heaven, by presenting his crucified body before the presence of God; Heb 1:3; Heb 10:10. Secondly, I observe, that God's saluting Messiah a priest after the order of Melchisedec, being mentioned in the psalm after God is said to have invited him to sit at his right hand, it is reasonable to think the salutation was given him after he had offered the sacrifice of himself; and had taken his seat at God's right hand. Considered in this order, the salutation of Jesus, as a priest after the order of Melchisedec, was a public declaration on the part of God that he accepted the sacrifice of himself, which Jesus then offered, as a sufficient atonement for the sin of the world, and approved of the whole of his ministrations on earth, and confirmed all the effects of that meritorious sacrifice, And whereas we are informed in the psalm that, after God had invited his Son, in the human nature; to sit at his right hand as Governor of the world, and foretold the blessed fruits of his government, he published the oath by which he made him a Priest for ever, before he sent him into the world to accomplish the salvation of mankind; and declared that he would never repent of that oath: The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent; Thou art a Priest for ever after the similitude of Melchisedec. It was, in effect, a solemn publication of the method in which God would pardon sinners; and a promise that the effects of his Son's government as a King, and of his ministrations as a Priest, should be eternal; see Heb 6:20. Moreover, as this solemn declaration of the dignity of the Son of God, as a King and a Priest for ever in the human nature, was made in the hearing of the angelical hosts, it was designed for this instruction, that they might understand their subordination to God's Son, and pay him that homage that is due to him as Governor of the world, and as Savior of the human race; Phi 2:9, Phi 2:10; Heb 1:6. The above explanation of the import of God's saluting Jesus a Priest for ever, is founded on the apostle's reasonings in the seventh and following chapters, where he enters into the deep meaning of the oath by which that salutation was conferred."
Of whom we have many things to say - The words περι οὑ, which we translate of whom, are variously applied:
1. To Melchisedec;
2. To Christ;
3. To the endless priesthood.
Those who understand the place of Melchisedec, suppose that it is in reference to this that the apostle resumes the subject in the seventh chapter, where much more is said on this subject, though not very difficult of comprehension; and indeed it is not to be supposed that the Hebrews could be more capable of understanding the subject when the apostle wrote the seventh chapter than they were when, a few hours before, he had written the fifth. It is more likely, therefore, that the words are to be understood as meaning Jesus, or that endless priesthood, of which he was a little before speaking, and which is a subject that carnal Christians cannot easily comprehend.
Hard to be uttered - Δυσερμηνευτος· Difficult to be interpreted, because Melchisedec was a typical person. Or if it refer to the priesthood of Christ, that is still more difficult to be explained, as it implies, not only his being constituted a priest after this typical order, but his paying down the ransom for the sins of the whole world; and his satisfying the Divine justice by this sacrifice, but also thereby opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers, and giving the whole world an entrance to the holy of holies by his blood.
Dull of hearing - Νωθροι ταις ακοαις· Your souls do not keep pace with the doctrines and exhortations delivered to you. As νωθρος signifies a person who walks heavily and makes little speed, it is here elegantly applied to those who are called to the Christian race, have the road laid down plain before them, how to proceed specified, and the blessings to be obtained enumerated, and yet make no exertions to get on, but are always learning, and never able to come to the full knowledge of the truth.
For when for the time - They had heard the Gospel for many years, and had professed to be Christians for a long time; on these accounts they might reasonably have been expected to be well instructed in Divine things, so as to be able to instruct others.
Which be the first principles - Τινα τα στοιχεια· Certain first principles or elements. The word τινα is not the nominative plural, as our translators have supposed, but the accusative case, governed by διδασκειν· and therefore the literal translation of the passage is this: Ye have need that one teach you a second time (παλιν) certain elements of the doctrines of Christ, or oracles of God; i.e. the notices which the prophets gave concerning the priesthood of Jesus Christ, such as are found in Psa 110:1-7 :, and in Isa 53:1-12 : By the oracles of God the writings of the Old Testament, are undoubtedly meant.
And are become such - The words seem to intimate that they had once been better instructed, and had now forgotten that teaching; and this was occasioned by their being dull of hearing; either they had not continued to hear, or they had heard so carelessly that they were not profited by what they heard. They had probably totally omitted the preaching of the Gospel, and consequently forgotten all they had learned. Indeed, it was to reclaim those Hebrews from backsliding, and preserve them from total apostasy, that this epistle was written.
Such as have need of milk - Milk is a metaphor by which many authors, both sacred and profane, express the first principles of religion and science; and they apply sucking to learning; and every student in his novitiate, or commencement of his studies, was likened to an infant that derives all its nourishment from the breast of its mother, not being able to digest any other kind of food. On the contrary, those who had well learned all the first principles of religion and science, and knew how to apply them, were considered as adults who were capable of receiving στερεα τροφη, solid food; i.e. the more difficult and sublime doctrines. The rabbins abound with this figure; it occurs frequently in Philo, and in the Greek ethic writers also. In the famous Arabic poem called al Bordah, written by Abi Abdallah Mohammed ben Said ben Hamad Albusiree, in praise of Mohammed and his religion, every couplet of which ends with the letter mim, the first letter in Mohammed's name, we meet with a couplet that contains a similar sentiment to that of the apostle: -
"The soul is like to a young infant, which, if permitted, will grow up to manhood in the love of sucking; but if thou take it from the breast it will feel itself weaned."
Dr. Owen observes that there are two Sorts of hearers of the Gospel, which are here expressed by an elegant metaphor or similitude; this consists,
1. In the conformity that is between bodily food and the Gospel as preached.
2. In the variety of natural food as suited to the various states of them that feed on it, answered by the truths of the Gospel, which are of various kinds; and, in exemplification of this metaphor, natural food is reduced to two kinds:
2. strong or solid meat; and those who feed on these are reduced to two sorts:
2. men of ripe age. Both of which are applied to hearers of the Gospel.
1. Some there are who are νηπιοι, babes or infants, and some are τελειοι, perfect or full grown.
2. These babes are described by a double properly:
1. They are dull of hearing;
2. They are unskilful in the word of righteousness.
In opposition to this, those who are spiritually adult are,
1. They who are capable of instruction.
2. Such as have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
3. The different means to be applied to these different sorts for their good, according to their respective conditions, are expressed in the terms of the metaphor: to the first, γαλα, milk; to the others, στεοεα τροφη, strong meat. All these are compromised in the following scheme: -
The hearers of the Gospel Are,
I. Νηπιοι· Babes or Infants II. Τελειοι· Perfect or Adult Who are Who are 1. Νωθροι ταις ακοαις· Dull of hearing 1. Φρονιμοι· Wise and prudent. 2. Απειροι λογου δικαιοσυνης· Inexperienced in the doctrine of righteousness. 2. Τα αισθητηρια γεγυμνασμενα εχοντες· And have their senses properly exercised. These have need These have need Γαλακτος· Of milk. Στερεας τροφης· Of solid food.
But all these are to derive their nourishment or spiritual instruction εκ των λογιων του Θεου, from the oracles of God. The word oracle, by which we translate the λογιον of the apostle, is used by the best Greek writers to signify a divine speech, or answer of a deity to a question proposed. It always implied a speech or declaration purely celestial, in which man had no part; and it is thus used wherever it occurs in the New Testament.
1. It signifies the Law received from God by Moses, Act 7:38.
2. The Old Testament in general; the holy men of old having spoken by the inspiration of the Divine Spirit, Rom 3:2, and in the text under consideration.
3. It signifies Divine revelation in general, because all delivered immediately from God, Th1 2:13; Pe1 4:11. When we consider what respect was paid by the heathens to their oracles, which were supposed to be delivered by those gods who were the objects of their adoration, but which were only impostures, we may then learn what respect is due to the true oracles of God.
Among the heathens the credit of oracles was so great, that in all doubts and disputes their determinations were held sacred and inviolable; whence vast numbers flocked to them for advice in the management of their affairs, and no business of any importance was undertaken, scarcely any war waged or peace concluded, any new form of government instituted or new laws enacted, without the advice and approbation of the oracle. Croesus, before he durst venture to declare war against the Persians, consulted not only the most famous oracles of Greece, but sent ambassadors as far as Libya, to ask advice of Jupiter Ammon. Minos, the Athenian lawgiver, professed to receive instructions from Jupiter how to model his intended government; and Lycurgus, legislator of Sparta, made frequent visits to the Delphian Apollo, and received from him the platform of the Lacedemonian commonwealth. See Broughton.
What a reproach to Christians, who hold the Bible to be a collection of the oracles of God, and who not only do not consult it in the momentous concerns of either this or the future life, but go in direct opposition to it! Were every thing conducted according to these oracles, we should have neither war nor desolation in the earth; families would be well governed, and individuals universally made happy.
Those who consulted the ancient oracles were obliged to go to enormous expenses, both in sacrifices and in presents to the priests. And when they had done so, they received oracles which were so equivocal, that, howsoever the event fell out, they were capable of being interpreted that way.
For every one that useth milk - It is very likely that the apostle, by using this term, refers to the doctrines of the law, which were only the rudiments of religion, and were intended to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
The word of righteousness - Αογος δικαιοσυνης· The doctrine of justification. I believe this to be the apostle's meaning. He that uses milk - rests in the ceremonies and observances of the law, is unskilful in the doctrine of justification; for this requires faith in the sacrificial death of the promised Messiah.
But strong meat - The high and sublime doctrines of Christianity; the atonement, justification by faith, the gift of the Holy Ghost, the fullness of Christ dwelling in the souls of men, triumph in and over death, the resurrection of the body, the glorification of both body and soul in the realms of blessedness, and an endless union with Christ in the throne of his glory. This is the strong food which the genuine Christian understands, receives, digests, and by which he grows.
By reason of use - Who, by constant hearing, believing, praying, and obedience, use all the graces of God's Spirit; and, in the faithful use of them, find every one improved, so that they daily grow in grace, and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Have their senses exercised - The word αισθητηρια signifies the different organs of sense, as the eyes, ears, tongue, and palate, nose, and finger ends, and the nervous surface in general, through which we gain the sensations called seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling. These organs of sense, being frequently exercised or employed on a variety of subjects, acquire the power to discern the various objects of sense: viz. all objects of light; difference of sounds; of tastes or savours; of odours or smelling; and of hard, soft, wet, dry, cold, hot, rough, smooth, and all other tangible qualities.
There is something in the soul that answers to all these senses in the body. And as universal nature presents to the other senses their different and appropriate objects, so religion presents to these interior senses the objects which are suited to them. Hence in Scripture we are said, even in spiritual things, to see, hear, taste, smell, and touch or feel. These are the means by which the soul is rendered comfortable, and through which it derives its happiness and perfection.
In the adult Christian these senses are said to be γεγυμνασμενα, exercised, a metaphor taken from the athlete or contenders in the Grecian games, who were wont to employ all their powers, skill, and agility in mock fights, running, wrestling, etc., that they might be the better prepared for the actual contests when they took place. So these employ and improve all their powers, and in using grace get more grace; and thus, being able to discern good from evil, they are in little danger of being imposed on by false doctrine, or by the pretensions of hypocrites; or of being deceived by the subtleties of Satan. They feel that their security depends, under God, on this exercise - on the proper use which they make of the grace already given them by God. Can any reader be so dull as not to understand this?