Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Different discoveries made of the Divine will to the ancient Israelites by the prophets, Heb 1:1. The discovery now perfected by the revelation of Jesus Christ, of whose excellences and glories a large description is given, Heb 1:2-13. Angels are ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation, Heb 1:14.
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners - We can scarcely conceive any thing more dignified than the opening of this epistle; the sentiments are exceedingly elevated, and the language, harmony itself! The infinite God is at once produced to view, not in any of those attributes which are essential to the Divine nature, but in the manifestations of his love to the world, by giving a revelation of his will relative to the salvation of mankind, and thus preparing the way, through a long train of years, for the introduction of that most glorious Being, his own Son. This Son, in the fullness of time, was manifested in the flesh that he might complete all vision and prophecy, supply all that was wanting to perfect the great scheme of revelation for the instruction of the world, and then die to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. The description which he gives of this glorious personage is elevated beyond all comparison. Even in his humiliation, his suffering of death excepted, he is infinitely exalted above all the angelic host, is the object of their unceasing adoration, is permanent on his eternal throne at the right hand of the Father, and from him they all receive their commands to minister to those whom he has redeemed by his blood. in short, this first chapter, which may be considered the introduction to the whole epistle is, for importance of subject, dignity of expression, harmony and energy of language, compression and yet distinctness of ideas, equal, if not superior, to any other part of the New Testament.
Sundry times - Πολυμερως, from πολυς, many, and μερος, a part; giving portions of revelation at different times.
Divers manners - Πολυτροπως, from πολυς, many, and τροπος, a manner, turn, or form of speech; hence trope, a figure in rhetoric. Lambert Bos supposes these words to refer to that part of music which is denominated harmony, viz. that general consent or union of musical sounds which is made up of different parts; and, understood in this way, it may signify the agreement or harmony of all the Old Testament writers, who with one consent gave testimony to Jesus Christ, and the work of redemption by him. To him gave all the prophets witness, that, through his name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins; Act 10:43.
But it is better to consider, with Kypke, that the words are rather intended to point out the imperfect state of Divine revelation under the Old Testament; it was not complete, nor can it without the New be considered a sufficiently ample discovery of the Divine will. Under the Old Testament, revelations were made πολυμερως και πολυτροπως, at various times, by various persons, in various laws and forms of teaching, with various degrees of clearness, under various shadows, types, and figures, and with various modes of revelation, such as by angels, visions, dreams, mental impressions, etc. See Num 12:6, Num 12:8. But under the New Testament all is done ἁπλως, simply, by one person, i.e. Jesus, who has fulfilled the prophets, and completed prophecy; who is the way, the truth, and the life; and the founder, mediator, and governor of his own kingdom.
One great object of the apostle is, to put the simplicity of the Christian system in opposition to the complex nature of the Mosaic economy; and also to show that what the law could not do because it was weak through the flesh, Jesus has accomplished by the merit of his death, and the energy of his Spirit.
Maximus Tyrius, Diss. 1, page 7, has a passage where the very words employed by the apostle are found, and evidently used nearly in the same sense: Τῃ του ανθρωπου ψυχῃ δυο οργανων οντων προς συνεσιν, του μεν ἁπλου, ὁν καλουμεν νουν, του δε ποικιλου και πολυμερους και πολυτροπου, ἁς αισθησεις καλουμεν. "The soul of man has two organs of intelligence: one simple, which we call mind; the other diversified, and acting in various modes and various ways, which we term sense."
A similar form of expression the same writer employs in Diss. 15, page 171: "The city which is governed by the mob, πολυφωνον τε ειναι και πολυμερη και πολυπαθη, is full of noise, and is divided by various factions and various passions." The excellence of the Gospel above the law is here set down in three points:
1. God spake unto the faithful under the Old Testament by Moses and the prophets, worthy servants, yet servants; now the Son is much better than a servant, Heb 1:4.
2. Whereas the body of the Old Testament was long in compiling, being about a thousand years from Moses to Malachi; and God spake unto the fathers by piecemeal, one while raising up one prophet, another while another, now sending them one parcel of prophecy or history, then another; but when Christ came, all was brought to perfection in one age; the apostles and evangelists were alive, some of them, when every part of the New Testament was completely finished.
3. The Old Testament was delivered by God in divers manners, both in utterance and manifestation; but the delivery of the Gospel was in a more simple manner; for, although there are various penmen, yet the subject is the same, and treated with nearly the same phraseology throughout; James, Jude, and the Apocalypse excepted. See Leigh.
Last days - The Gospel dispensation, called the last days and the last time, because not to be followed by any other dispensation; or the conclusion of the Jewish Church and state now at their termination.
By his Son - It is very remarkable that the pronoun αὑτου, his, is not found in the text; nor is it found in any MS. or version. We should not therefore supply the pronoun as our translators have done; but simply read εν Υἱῳ, By a Son, or In a Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things. God has many sons and daughters, for he is the Father of the spirits of all flesh; and he has many heirs, for if sons, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ; but he has no Son who is heir of all things, none by whom he made the worlds, none in whom he speaks, and by whom he has delivered a complete revelation to mankind, but Jesus the Christ.
The apostle begins with the lowest state in which Christ has appeared:
1. His being a Son, born of a woman, and made under the law. He then ascends,
2. So his being an Heir, and an Heir of all things.
3. He then describes him as the Creator of all worlds.
4. As the Brightness of the Divine glory.
5. As the express Image of his person, or character of the Divine substance.
6. As sustaining the immense fabric of the universe; and this by the word of his power.
7. As having made an atonement for the sin of the world, which was the most stupendous of all his works.
"'Twas great to speak a world from nought;
'Twas greater to redeem."
8. As being on the right hand of God, infinitely exalted above all created beings; and the object of adoration to all the angelic host.
9. As having an eternal throne, neither his person nor his dignity ever changing or decaying.
10. As continuing to exercise dominion, when the earth and the heavens are no more! It is only in God manifested in the flesh that all these excellences can possibly appear, therefore the apostle begins this astonishing climax with the simple Sonship of Christ, or his incarnation; for, on this, all that he is to man, and all that he has done for man, is built.
The brightness of his glory - Απαυγασμα της δοξης The resplendent outbeaming of the essential glory of God. Hesychius interprets απαυγασμα by ᾑλιου φεγγος, the splendor of the sun. The same form of expression is used by an apocryphal writer, Wis. 7:26, where, speaking of the uncreated wisdom of God, he says: "For she is the splendor of eternal light, απαυγασμα γαρ εστι φωτος αΐδιου, and the unsullied mirror of the energy of God, and the image of his goodness." The word αυγασμα is that which has splendor in itself απαυγασμα is the splendor emitted from it; but the inherent splendor and the exhibited splendor are radically and essentially the same.
The express image of his person - Χαρακτηρ της ὑποστασεως αυτου· The character or impression of his hypostasis or substance. It is supposed that these words expound the former; image expounding brightness, and person or substance, glory. The hypostasis of God is that which is essential to him as God; and the character or image is that by which all the likeness of the original becomes manifest, and is a perfect fac-simile of the whole. It is a metaphor taken from sealing; the die or seal leaving the full impression of its every part on the wax to which it is applied.
From these words it is evident,
1. That the apostle states Jesus Christ to be of the same essence with the Father, as the απαυγασμα, or proceeding splendor, must be the same with the αυγασμα, or inherent splendor.
2. That Christ, though proceeding from the Father, is of the same essence; for if one αυγη, or splendor, produce another αυγη, or splendor, the produced splendor must be of the same essence with that which produces it.
3. That although Christ is thus of the same essence with the Father, yet he is a distinct person from the Father; as the splendor of the sun, though of the same essence, is distinct from the sun itself, though each is essential to the other; as the αυγασμα, or inherent splendor, cannot subsist without its απαυγασμα, or proceeding splendor, nor the proceeding splendor subsist without the inherent splendor from which it proceeds.
4. That Christ is eternal with the Father, as the proceeding splendor must necessarily be coexistent with the inherent splendor. If the one, therefore, be uncreated, the other is uncreated; if the one be eternal, the other is eternal.
Upholding all things by the word of his power - This is an astonishing description of the infinitely energetic and all pervading power of God. He spake, and all things were created; he speaks, and all things are sustained. The Jewish writers frequently express the perfection of the Divine nature by the phrases, He bears all things, both above and below; He carries all his creatures; He bears his world; He bears all worlds by his power. The Hebrews, to whom this epistle was written, would, from this and other circumstances, fully understand that the apostle believed Jesus Christ to be truly and properly God.
Purged our sins - There may be here some reference to the great transactions in the wilderness.
1. Moses, while in communion with God on the mount, was so impressed with the Divine glories that his face shone, so that the Israelites could not behold it. But Jesus is infinitely greater than Moses, for he is the splendor of God's glory; and,
2. Moses found the government of the Israelites such a burden that he altogether sank under it. His words, Num 11:12, are very remarkable: Have I conceived all this people? Have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy Bosom - unto the land which thou swearest unto their fathers? But Christ not only carried all the Israelites, and all mankind; but he upholds All Things by the word of his power.
3. The Israelites murmured against Moses and against God, and provoked the heavy displeasure of the Most High; and would have been consumed had not Aaron made an atonement for them, by offering victims and incense. But Jesus not only makes an atonement for Israel, but for the whole world; not with the blood of bulls and goats, but with his own blood: hence it is said that he purged our sins δι' αὑτου, by himself his own body and life being the victim. It is very likely that the apostle had all these things in his eye when he wrote this verse; and takes occasion from them to show the infinite excellence of Jesus Christ when compared with Moses; and of his Gospel when compared with the law. And it is very likely that the Spirit of God, by whom he spoke, kept in view those maxims of the ancient Jews, concerning the Messiah, whom they represent as being infinitely greater than Abraham, the patriarchs, Moses, and the ministering angels. So Rabbi Tanchum, on Isa 52:13, Behold my servant shall deal prudently, says, זה מלך המשיח Zeh melek hammashiach, this is the King Messiah; and shall be exalted, and be extolled, and be very high. "He shall be exalted above Abraham, and shall be extolled beyond Moses, and shall be more sublime than the ministering angels." See the preface.
The right hand of the Majesty on high - As it were associated with the supreme Majesty, in glory everlasting, and in the government of all things in time and in eternity; for the right hand is the place of the greatest eminence, Kg1 2:19. The king himself, in eastern countries, sits on the throne; the next to him in the kingdom, and the highest favourite, sits on his right hand; and the third greatest personage, on his left.
So much better than the angels - Another argument in favor of the Divinity of our Lord. The Jews had the highest opinion of the transcendent excellence of angels, they even associate them with God in the creation of the world, and suppose them to be of the privy council of the Most High; and thus they understand Gen 1:26 : Let us make man in our own image, in our own likeness; "And the Lord said to the ministering angels that stood before him, and who were created the second day, Let us make man," etc. See the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel. And they even allow them to be worshipped for the sake of their Creator, and as his representatives; though they will not allow them to be worshipped for their own sake. As, therefore, the Jews considered them next to God, and none entitled to their adoration but God; on their own ground the apostle proves Jesus Christ to be God, because God commanded all the angels of heaven to worship him. He, therefore, who is greater than the angels, and is the object of their adoration, is God. But Jesus Christ is greater than the angels, and the object of their adoration; therefore Jesus Christ must be God.
By inheritance obtained - Κεκληρονομηκεν ονομα. The verb κληρονομειν signifies generally to participate, possess, obtain, or acquire; and is so used by the purest Greek writers: Kypke has produced several examples of it from Demosthenes. It is not by inheritance that Christ possesses a more excellent name than angels, but as God: he has it naturally and essentially; and, as God manifested in the flesh, he has it in consequence of his humiliation, sufferings, and meritorious death. See Phi 2:9.
Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee - These words are quoted from Psa 2:7, a psalm that seems to refer only to the Messiah; and they are quoted by St. Paul, Act 13:33, as referring to the resurrection of Christ. And this application of them is confirmed by the same apostle, Rom 1:4, as by his resurrection from the dead he was declared - manifestly proved, to be the Son of God with power; God having put forth his miraculous energy in raising that body from the grave which had truly died, and died a violent death, for Christ was put to death as a malefactor, but by his resurrection his innocence was demonstrated, as God could not work a miracle to raise a wicked man from the dead. As Adam was created by God, and because no natural generation could have any operation in this case, therefore he was called the son of God, Luk 3:38, and could never have seen corruption if he had not sinned, so the human nature of Jesus Christ, formed by the energy of the eternal Spirit in the womb of the virgin, without any human intervention, was for this very reason called the Son of God, Luk 1:35; and because it had not sinned, therefore it could not see corruption, nor was it even mortal, but through a miraculous display of God's infinite love, for the purpose of making a sacrificial atonement for the sin of the world and God, having raised this sacrificed human nature from the dead, declared that same Jesus (who was, as above stated, the Son of God) to be his Son, the promised Messiah; and as coming by the Virgin Mary, the right heir to the throne of David, according to the uniform declaration of all the prophets.
The words, This day have I begotten thee, must refer either to his incarnation, when he was miraculously conceived in the womb of the virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit; or to his resurrection from the dead, when God, by this sovereign display of his almighty energy, declared him to be his Son, vindicated his innocence, and also the purity and innocence of the blessed virgin, who was the mother of this son, and who declared him to be produced in her womb by the power of God. The resurrection of Christ, therefore, to which the words most properly refer, not only gave the fullest proof that he was an innocent and righteous man, but also that he had accomplished the purpose for which he died, and that his conception was miraculous, and his mother a pure and unspotted virgin.
This is a subject of infinite importance to the Christian system, and of the last consequence in reference to the conviction and conversion of the Jews, for whose use this epistle was sent by God. Here is the rock on which they split; they deny this Divine Sonship of Jesus Christ, and their blasphemies against him and his virgin mother are too shocking to be transcribed. The certainty of the resurrection of Jesus refutes their every calumny; proves his miraculous conception; vindicates the blessed virgin; and, in a word, declares him to be the Son of God with power.
This most important use of this saying has passed unnoticed by almost every Christian writer which I have seen; and yet it lies here at the foundation of all the apostle's proofs. If Jesus was not thus the Son of God, the whole Christian system is vain and baseless: but his resurrection demonstrates him to have been the Son of God; therefore every thing built on this foundation is more durable than the foundations of heaven, and as inexpugnable as the throne of the eternal King.
He shall be to me a Son? - As the Jews have ever blasphemed against the Sonship of Christ, it was necessary that the apostle should adduce and make strong all his proofs, and show that this was not a new revelation; that it was that which was chiefly intended in several scriptures of the Old Testament, which, without farther mentioning the places where found, he immediately produces. This place, which is quoted from Sa2 7:14, shows us that the seed which God promised to David, and who was to sit upon his throne, and whose throne should be established for ever, was not Solomon, but Jesus Christ; and indeed he quotes the words so as to intimate that they were so understood by the Jews. See among the observations at the end of the chapter.
And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten - This is not a correct translation of the Greek, Ὁταν δε παλιν εισαγαγῃ τον πρωτοτοκον εις την οικουμενην· But when he bringeth again, or the second time, the first-born into the habitable world. This most manifestly refers to his resurrection, which might be properly considered a second incarnation; for as the human soul, as well as the fullness of the Godhead bodily, dwelt in the man, Christ Jesus on and during his incarnation, so when he expired upon the cross, both the Godhead and the human spirit left his dead body; and as on his resurrection these were reunited to his revivified manhood, therefore, with the strictest propriety, does the apostle say that the resurrection was a second bringing of him into the world.
I have translated οικουμενη the habitable world, and this is its proper meaning; and thus it is distinguished from κοσμος, which signifies the terraqueous globe, independently of its inhabitants; though it often expresses both the inhabited and uninhabited parts. Our Lord's first coming into the world is expressed by this latter word, Heb 10:5 : Wherefore when he cometh into the world, διο εισερχομενος εις τον κοσμον, and this simply refers to his being incarnated, that he might be capable of suffering and dying for man. But the word is changed on this second coming, I mean his resurrection, and then οικουμενη is used; and why? (fancy apart) because he was now to dwell with man; to send his gospel everywhere to all the inhabitants of the earth, and to accompany that Gospel wherever he sent it, and to be wherever two or three should be gathered together in his name. Wherever the messengers of Jesus Christ go, preaching the kingdom of God, even to the farthest and most desolate parts of the earth where human beings exist, there they ever find Christ; he is not only in them, and with them, but he is in and among all who believe on him through their word.
Let all the angels of God worship him - The apostle recurs here to his former assertion, that Jesus is higher than the angels, Heb 1:4, that he is none of those who can be called ordinary angels or messengers, but one of the most extraordinary kind, and the object of worship to all the angels of God. To worship any creature is idolatry, and God resents idolatry more than any other evil. Jesus Christ can be no creature, else the angels who worship him must be guilty of idolatry, and God the author of that idolatry, who commanded those angels to worship Christ.
There has been some difficulty in ascertaining the place from which the apostle quotes these words; some suppose Psa 97:7 : Worship him, all ye gods; which the Septuagint translate thus: Προσκυνησατε αυτῳ, παντες αγγελοι αυτου· Worship him, all ye his angels; but it is not clear that the Messiah is intended in this psalm, nor are the words precisely those used here by the apostle. Our marginal references send us with great propriety to the Septuagint version of Deu 32:43, where the passage is found verbatim et literatim; but there is nothing answering to the words in the present Hebrew text. The apostle undoubtedly quoted the Septuagint, which had then been for more than 300 years a version of the highest repute among the Jews; and it is very probable that the copy from which the Seventy translated had the corresponding words. However this may be, they are now sanctioned by Divine authority; and as the verse contains some singular additions, I will set it down in a parallel column with that of our own version, which was taken immediately from the Hebrew text, premising simply this, that it is the last verse of the famous prophetic song of Moses, which seems to point out the advent of the Messiah to discomfit his enemies, purify the land, and redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
Deu 32:43, from the Hebrew Deuteronomy 32:43, from the Septuagint - Rejoice, ye heaven, together with him; and let all the ... Rejoice, O ye nations, with angels of God worship him. Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people ... his people; and let the children of God be strengthened ... for he will avenge in him; for he will avenge the blood of his children; the blood of his servants; - and will render he will avenge, and will repay judgment to his adver- vengeance to his adversaries: - and ... saries; and those who hate him will he recompense: ... will be merciful to his land and to his people and the Lord will purge the land of his people
This is a very important verse; and to it, as it stands in the Septuagint, St. Paul has referred once before; see Rom 15:10. This very verse, as it stands now in the Septuagint, thus referred to by an inspired writer, shows the great importance of this ancient version; and proves the necessity of its being studied and well understood by every minister of Christ. In Romans 3 there is a large quotation - from Psa 14:1-7 :, where there are six whole verses in the apostle's quotation which are not found in the present Hebrew text, but are preserved in the Septuagint! How strange it is that this venerable and important version, so often quoted by our Lord and all his apostles, should be so generally neglected, and so little known! That the common people should be ignorant of it, is not to be wondered at, as it has never been put in an English dress; but that the ministers of the Gospel should be unacquainted with it may be spoken to their shame.
Who maketh his angels spirits - They are so far from being superior to Christ, that they are not called God's sons in any peculiar sense, but his servants, as tempests and lightnings are. In many respects they may have been made inferior even to man as he came out of the hands of his Maker, for he was made in the image and likeness of God; but of the angels, even the highest order of them, this is never spoken. It is very likely that the apostle refers here to the opinions of the Jews relative to the angels. In Pirkey R. Elieser, c. 4, it is said: "The angels which were created the second day, when they minister before God, נעשין של אש become fire." In Shemoth Rabba, s. 25, fol. 123, it is said: "God is named the Lord of hosts, because with his angels he doth whatsoever he wills: when he pleases, he makes them sit down; Jdg 6:11 : And the angel of the Lord came, and sat under a tree. When he pleases, he causes them to stand; Isa 6:2 : The seraphim stood. Sometimes he makes them like women; Zac 5:9 : Behold there came two women, and the wind was in their wings. Sometimes he makes them like men; Gen 18:2 : And, lo, three men stood by him. Sometimes he makes them spirits; Psa 104:4 : Who maketh his angels spirits. Sometimes he makes them fire; ibid. His ministers a flame of fire."
In Yalcut Simeoni, par. 2, fol. 11, it is said: "The angel answered Manoah, I know not in whose image I am made, for God changeth us every hour: sometimes he makes us fire, sometimes spirit, sometimes men, and at other times angels." It is very probable that those who are termed angels are not confined to any specific form or shape, but assume various forms and appearances according to the nature of the work on which they are employed and the will of their sovereign employer. This seems to have been the ancient Jewish doctrine on this subject.
Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever - If this be said of the Son of God, i.e. Jesus Christ, then Jesus Christ must be God; and indeed the design of the apostle is to prove this. The words here quoted are taken from Psa 45:6, Psa 45:7, which the ancient Chaldee paraphrast, and the most intelligent rabbins, refer to the Messiah. On the third verse of this Psalm, Thou art fairer than the children of men, the Targum says: "Thy beauty, מלכא משיחא malca Meshicha, O King Messiah, is greater than the children of men." Aben Ezra says: "This Psalm speaks of David, or rather of his son, the Messiah, for this is his name," Eze 34:24 : And David my servant shall be a Prince over them for ever. Other rabbins confirm this opinion.
This verse is very properly considered a proof, and indeed a strong one, of the Divinity of Christ; but some late versions of the New Testament have endeavored to avoid the evidence of this proof by translating the words thus: God is thy throne for ever and ever; and if this version be correct, it is certain the text can be no proof of the doctrine. Mr. Wakefield vindicates this translation at large in his History of Opinions; and ὁ Θεος, being the nominative case, is supposed to be a sufficient justification of this version. In answer to this it may be stated that the nominative case is often used for the vocative, particularly by the Attics; and the whole scope of the place requires it should be so used here; and, with due deference to all of a contrary opinion, the original Hebrew cannot be consistently translated any other way, כסאך אלהים עולם ועד kisaca Elohim olam vaed, Thy throne, O God, is for ever, and to eternity. It is in both worlds; and extends over all time; and will exist through all endless duration. To this our Lord seems to refer, Mat 28:18 : All power is given unto me, both in Heaven and Earth. My throne, i.e. my dominion, extends from the creation to the consummation of all things. These I have made, and these I uphold; and from the end of the world, throughout eternity, I shall have the same glory - sovereign, unlimited power and authority, which I had with the Father before the world began; Joh 17:5. I may add that none of the ancient versions has understood it in the way contended for by those who deny the Godhead of Christ, either in the Psalm from which it is taken, or in this place where it is quoted. Aquila translates אלהים Elohim, by Θεε, O God, in the vocative case; and the Arabic adds the sign of the vocative ya, reading the place thus: korsee yallaho ila abadilabada, the same as in our version. And even allowing that ὁ Θεος here is to be used as the nominative case, it will not make the sense contended for, without adding εστι to it, a reading which is not countenanced by any version, nor by any MS. yet discovered. Wiclif, Coverdale, and others, understood it as the nominative, and translated it so; and yet it is evident that this nominative has the power of the vocative: forsothe to the sone God thi troone into the world of world: a gerde of equite the gerde of thi reume. I give this, pointing and all, as it stands in my old MS. Bible. Wiclif is nearly the same, but is evidently of a more modern cast: but to the sone he seith, God thy trone is into the world of world, a gherd of equyte is the gherd of thi rewme. Coverdale translates it thus: But unto the sonne he sayeth, God, thi seate endureth for ever and ever: the cepter of thi kyngdome is a right cepter. Tindal and others follow in the same way, all reading it in the nominative case, with the force of the vocative; for none of them has inserted the word εστι, is, because not authorized by the original: a word which the opposers of the Divinity of our Lord are obliged to beg, in order to support their interpretation. See some farther criticisms on this at the end of this chapter.
A scepter of righteousness - The scepter, which was a sort of staff or instrument of various forms, was the ensign of government, and is here used for government itself. This the ancient Jewish writers understand also of the Messiah.
Thou hast loved righteousness - This is the characteristic of a just governor: he abhors and suppresses iniquity; he countenances and supports righteousness and truth.
Therefore God, even thy God - The original, δια τουτο εχρισε σε ὁ Θεος, ὁ Θεος σου, may be thus translated: Therefore, O God, thy God hath anointed thee. The form of speech is nearly the same with that in the preceding verse; but the sense is sufficiently clear if we read, Therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee, etc.
With the oil of gladness - We have often had occasion to remark that, anciently, kings, priests, and prophets were consecrated to their several offices by anointing; and that this signified the gifts and influences of the Divine Spirit. Christ, ὁ Χριστος, signifies The Anointed One, the same as the Hebrew Messias; and he is here said to be anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows. None was ever constituted prophet, priest, and king, but himself; some were kings only, prophets only, and priests only; others were kings and priests, or priests and prophets, or kings and prophets; but none had ever the three offices in his own person but Jesus Christ, and none but himself can be a King over the universe, a Prophet to all intelligent beings, and a Priest to the whole human race. Thus he is infinitely exalted beyond his fellows - all that had ever borne the regal, prophetic, or sacerdotal offices.
Some think that the word μετοχους, fellows, refers to believers who are made partakers of the same Spirit, but cannot have its infinite plenitude. The first sense seems the best. Gladness is used to express the festivities which took place on the inauguration of kings, etc.
And, Thou, Lord - This is an address to the Son as the Creator, see Heb 1:2; for this is implied in laying the foundation of the earth. The heavens, which are the work of his hands, point out his infinite wisdom and skill.
They shall perish - Permanently fixed as they seem to be, a time shall come when they shall be dissolved, and afterward new heavens and a new earth be formed, in which righteousness alone shall dwell. See Pe2 3:10-13.
Shall wax old as doth a garment - As a garment by long using becomes unfit to be longer used, so shall all visible things; they shall wear old, and wear out; and hence the necessity of their being renewed. It is remarkable that our word world is a contraction of wear old; a term by which our ancestors expressed the sentiment contained in this verse. That the word was thus compounded, and that it had this sense in our language, may be proved from the most competent and indisputable witnesses. It was formerly written weorold, and wereld. This etymology is finely alluded to by our excellent poet, Spencer, when describing the primitive age of innocence, succeeded by the age of depravity: -
"The lion there did with the lambe consort,
And eke the dove sat by the faulcon's side;
Ne each of other feared fraude or tort,
But did in safe security abide,
Withouten perill of the stronger pride:
But when the World woxe old, it woxe warre old,
Whereof it hight, and having shortly tride
The trains of wit, in wickednesse woxe bold,
And dared of all sinnes, the secrets to unfold."
Even the heathen poets are full of such allusions. See Horace, Carm. lib. iii., od. 6; Virgil, Aen. viii., ver. 324.
Thou remainest - Instead of διαμένεις, some good MSS. read διαμενεῖς, the first, without the circumflex, being the present tense of the indicative mood; the latter, with the circumflex, being the future - thou shalt remain. The difference between these two readings is of little importance.
And they shall be changed - Not destroyed ultimately, or annihilated. They shall be changed and renewed.
But thou art the same - These words can be said of no being but God; all others are changeable or perishable, because temporal; only that which is eternal can continue essentially, and, speaking after the manner of men, formally the same.
Thy years shall not fail - There is in the Divine duration no circle to be run, no space to be measured, no time to be reckoned.
All is eternity - infinite and onward.
But to which of the angels - We have already seen, from the opinions and concessions of the Jews, that, if Jesus Christ could be proved to be greater than the angels, it would necessarily follow that he was God: and this the apostle does most amply prove by these various quotations from their own Scriptures; for he shows that while he is the supreme and absolute Sovereign, they are no more than his messengers and servants, and servants even to his servants, i.e. to mankind.
Are they not all ministering spirits - That is, They are all ministering spirits; for the Hebrews often express the strongest affirmative by an interrogation.
All the angels, even those of the highest order, are employed by their Creator to serve those who believe in Christ Jesus. What these services are, and how performed, it would be impossible to state. Much has been written on the subject, partly founded on Scripture, and partly on conjecture. They are, no doubt, constantly employed in averting evil and procuring good. If God help man by man, we need not wonder that he helps man by angels. We know that he needs none of those helps, for he can do all things himself; yet it seems agreeable to his infinite wisdom and goodness to use them. This is part of the economy of God in the government of the world and of the Church; and a part, no doubt, essential to the harmony and perfection of the whole. The reader may see a very sensible discourse on this text in vol. ii., page 133, of the Rev. John Wesley's works, American edition. Dr. Owen treats the subject at large in his comment on this verse, vol. iii., page 141, edit. 8vo., which is just now brought to my hand, and which appears to be a very learned, judicious, and important work, but by far too diffuse. In it the words of God are drowned in the sayings of man.
The Godhead of Christ is a subject of such great importance, both to the faith and hope of a Christian, that I feel it necessary to bring it full into view, wherever it is referred to in the sacred writings. It is a prominent article in the apostle's creed, and should be so in ours. That this doctrine cannot be established on Heb 1:8 has been the assertion of many. To what I have already said on this verse, I beg leave to subjoin the following criticisms of a learned friend, who has made this subject his particular study.