Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The sum, or chief articles, of what the apostle has spoken, concerning the eternal priesthood of Christ, Heb 8:1-5 : The excellency of the new covenant beyond that of the old, Heb 8:6-9. The nature and perfection of the new covenant stated from the predictions of the prophets, Heb 8:10-12. By this new covenant the old is abolished, Heb 8:13.
I will be merciful to their unrighteousness - In order to be their God, as mentioned under the preceding verse, it is requisite that their iniquity should be pardoned; this is provided for by the immolation of Jesus Christ as the covenant sacrifice. By his blood, redemption has been purchased, and all who with penitent hearts believe on the Lord Jesus receive remission of sins, and God remembers their iniquities no more against them so as to punish them on that account. All spiritual evil against the nature and law of God is represented here under the following terms: -
1. Unrighteousness, αδικια, injustice or wrong. This is against God, his neighbor, and himself.
2. Sin, ἁμαρτια, deviation from the Divine law; Missing the Mark; aiming at happiness but never attaining it, because sought out of God, and in the breach of his laws.
3. Iniquity, ανομια, lawlessness, not having, knowing, or acknowledging, a law; having no law written in their hearts, and restrained by none in the conduct of their lives. All these are to be removed by God's mercy; and this is to be understood of his mercy in Christ Jesus.
He hath made the first old - That is: He has considered it as antiquated, and as being no longer of any force.
That which decayeth and waxeth old - Here is an allusion to the ancient laws, which either had perished from the tables on which they were written through old age, or were fallen into disuse, or were abrogated.
Is ready to vanish away - Εγγυς αφανισμου· Is about to be abolished. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, speaking of the laws of Numa, which had been written on oak boards, says: Ἁς αφανισθηναι συνεβη τῳ χρονῳ· "which had perished through old age." And the word αφανιζειν is used to express the abolition of the law. The apostle, therefore, intimates that the old covenant was just about to be abolished; but he expresses himself cautiously and tenderly, that he might not give unnecessary offense.
When the apostle said, All shall know the Lord, from the least to the greatest, under the new covenant, he had copious authority for saying so from the rabbins themselves. In Sohar Chadash, fol. 42, it is said: "In the days of the Messiah knowledge shall be renewed in the world, and the law shall be made plain among all; as it is written, Jer 31:33, All shall know me, from the least to the greatest." We find the following legend in Midrash Yalcut Simeoni, part 2, fol. 46: "The holy blessed God shall sit in paradise and explain the law; all the righteous shall sit before him, and the whole heavenly family shall stand on their feet; and the holy blessed God shall sit, and the new law, which be is to give by the Messiah, shall be interpreted."
In Sohar Genes., fol. 74, col. 291, we find these remarkable words: "When the days of the Messiah shall approach, even the little children in this world shall find out the hidden things of wisdom; and in that time all things shall be revealed to all men."
And in Sohar Levit., fol. 24, col. 95: "There shall be no time like this till the Messiah comes, and then the knowledge of God shall be found in every part of the world."
This day are all these sayings fulfilled in our ears: the word of God is multiplied; many run to and fro, and knowledge is increased; all the nations of the earth are receiving the book of God; and men of every clime, and of every degree - Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites; the dwellers in Mesopotamia, in Judea, in Cappadocia, in Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, in Egypt, in Libya; strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes; Cretes and Arabians; Americans, Indians, and Chinese - hear, in their own tongues, the wonderful works of God.
Of the things which we have spoken this is the sum - The word κεφαλαιον, which we translate sum, signifies the chief, the principal, or head; or, as St. Chrysostom explains it, κεφαλαιον αει το μεγιστον λεγεται, "that which is greatest is always called kephalaion," i.e. the head, or chief.
Who is set on the right hand of the throne - This is what the apostle states to be the chief or most important point of all that he had yet discussed. His sitting down at the right hand of the throne of God, proves,
1. That he is higher than all the high priests that ever existed.
2. That the sacrifice which he offered for the sins of the world was sufficient and effectual, and as such accepted by God.
3. That he has all power in the heavens and in the earth, and is able to save and defend to the uttermost all that come to God through him.
4. That he did not, like the Jewish high priest, depart out of the holy of holies, after having offered the atonement; but abides there at the throne of God, as a continual priest, in the permanent act of offering his crucified body unto God, in behalf of all the succeeding generations of mankind. It is no wonder the apostle should call this sitting down at the right hand of the throne of the Divine Majesty, the chief or head of all that he had before spoken.
A minister of the sanctuary - Των ἁγιων λειτουργος· A public minister of the holy things or places. The word λειτουργος, from λειτος, public, and εργον, a work or office, means a person who officiated for the public, a public officer; in whom, and his work, all the people had a common right: hence our word liturgy, the public work of prayer and praise, designed for the people at large; all having a right to attend it, and each having an equal interest in it. Properly speaking, the Jewish priest was the servant of the public; he transacted the business of the people with God. Jesus Christ is also the same kind of public officer; both as Priest and Mediator he transacts the business of the whole human race with God. He performs the holy things or acts in the true tabernacle, Heaven, of which the Jewish tabernacle was the type. The tabernacle was the place among the Jews where God, by the symbol of his presence, dwelt. This could only typify heaven, where God, in his essential glory, dwells, and is manifest to angels and glorified saints; and hence heaven is called here the true tabernacle, to distinguish it from the type.
Which the Lord pitched - The Jewish tabernacle was man's work, though made by God's direction; the heavens, this true tabernacle, the work of God alone, and infinitely more glorious than that of the Jews. The tabernacle was also a type of the human nature of Christ, Joh 1:14 : And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, και εσκηνωσεν εν ἡμιν and tabernacled among us; for, as the Divine presence dwelt in the tabernacle, so the fullness of the Godhead, bodily, dwelt in the man Christ Jesus. And this human body was the peculiar work of God, as it came not in the way of natural generation.
Every high priest is ordained - Καθισταται, Is set apart, for this especial work.
Gifts and sacrifices - Δωρα τε και θυσιας· Eucharistic offerings, and sacrifices for sin. By the former, God's government of the universe, and his benevolence to his creatures in providing for their support, were acknowledged. By the latter, the destructive and ruinous nature of sin, and the necessity of an atonement, were confessed.
Wherefore - of necessity - If Christ be a high priest, and it be essential to the office of a high priest to offer atoning sacrifices to God, Jesus must offer such. Now it is manifest that, as he is the public minister, officiating in the true tabernacle as high priest, he must make an atonement; and his being at the right hand of the throne shows that he has offered, and continues to offer, such an atonement.
For if he were on earth - As the Jewish temple was standing when this epistle was written, the whole temple service continued to be performed by the legal priests, descendants of Aaron, of the tribe of Levi; therefore if Christ had been then on earth, he could not have performed the office of a priest, being of the tribe of Judah, to which tribe the office of the priesthood did not appertain.
There are priests that offer gifts - This is an additional proof that this epistle was written before the destruction of Jerusalem. As the word θυσιαι, sacrifices, is not added here as it is in Heb 8:3, is it any evidence that bloody sacrifices had then ceased to be offered? Or, are both kinds included in the word δωρα, gifts? But is δωρον, a gift, ever used to express a bloody sacrifice? I believe the Septuagint never used it for זבח zebach, which signifies an animal offered to God in sacrifice.
Who serve - Οἱτινες λατρευουσι· Who perform Divine worship.
Unto the example and shadow - Υποδειγματι και σκιᾳ, With the representation and shadow; this is Dr. Macknight's translation, and probably the true one.
The whole Levitical service was a representation and shadow of heavenly things; it appears, therefore, absurd to say that the priests served Unto an example or representation of heavenly things; they served rather unto the substance of those things, With appropriate representations and shadows.
As Moses was admonished - Καθως κεχρηματισται Μωσης· As Moses was Divinely warned or admonished of God.
According to the pattern - Κατα τον τυπον· According to the type, plan, or form. It is very likely that God gave a regular plan and specification of the tabernacle and all its parts to Moses; and that from this Divine plan the whole was constructed. See on Exo 25:40 (note).
Now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry - His office of priesthood is more excellent than the Levitical, because the covenant is better, and established on better promises: the old covenant referred to earthly things; the new covenant, to heavenly. The old covenant had promises of secular good; the new covenant, of spiritual and eternal blessings. As far as Christianity is preferable to Judaism, as far as Christ is preferable to Moses, as far as spiritual blessings are preferable to earthly blessings, and as far as the enjoyment of God throughout eternity is preferable to the communication of earthly good during time; so far does the new covenant exceed the old.
If that first had been faultless - This is nearly the same argument with that in Heb 7:11. The simple meaning is: If the first covenant had made a provision for and actually conferred pardon and purity, and given a title to eternal life, then there could have been no need for a second; but the first covenant did not give these things, therefore a second was necessary; and the covenant that gives these things is the Christian covenant.
For finding fault with them - The meaning is evidently this: God, in order to show that the first covenant was inefficient, saith to them, the Israelites, Behold, the days come when I will make a new covenant, etc. He found fault with the covenant, and addressed the people concerning his purpose of giving another covenant, that should be such as the necessities of mankind required. As this place refers to Jer 31:31-34, the words finding fault with them may refer to the Jewish people, of whom the Lord complains that they had broken his covenant though he was a husband to them. See below.
With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah - That is, with all the descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob. This is thought to be a promise of the conversion of all the Jews to Christianity; both of the lost tribes, and of those who are known to exist in Asiatic and European countries.
Not according to the covenant - The new covenant is of a widely different nature to that of the old; it was only temporal and earthly in itself, though it pointed out spiritual and eternal things. The new covenant is totally different from this, as we have already seen; and such a covenant, or system of religion, the Jews should have been prepared to expect, as the Prophet Jeremiah had, in the above place, so clearly foretold it.
They continued not in my covenant - It should be observed that the word διαθηκη, which we translate covenant, often means religion itself; and its various precepts. The old covenant in general stated, on God's side, I will be your God; on the Israelites' side, We will be thy people. This covenant they brake; they served other gods, and neglected the precepts of that holy religion which God had delivered to them.
And I regarded them not - Καγω ημελησα αυτων· And I neglected them or despised them; but the words in the Hebrew text of the prophet are ואנכי בעלתי בם veanochi baalti bam, which we translate, although I was a husband to them. If our translation be correct, is it possible to account for this most strange difference between the apostle and the prophet? Could the Spirit of God be the author of such a strange, not to say contradictory, translation of the same words? Let it be observed:
1. That the apostle quotes from the Septuagint; and in quoting a version accredited by and commonly used among the Jews, he ought to give the text as he found it, unless the Spirit of God dictated an extension of meaning, as is sometimes the case; but in the present case there seems to be no necessity to alter the meaning.
2. The Hebrew words will bear a translation much nearer to the Septuagint and the apostle than our translation intimates. The words might be literally rendered, And I was Lord over them, or I lorded or ruled over them; i.e., I chastised them for their transgressions, and punished them for their iniquities; ημελησα, I took no farther care of them, and gave them up into the hands of their enemies, and so they were carried away into captivity. This pretty nearly reconciles the Hebrew and the Greek, as it shows the act of God in reference to them is nearly the same when the proper meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words is considered.
Some suppose that the letter ע ain in בעלתי is changed for ח cheth, and that the word should be read בחלתי bachalti, I have hated or despised them. An ancient and learned Jew, Rab. Parchon, has these remarkable words on this passage,
ואנכי בעלתי בם׃ פ
שנאתים וזו העין מתחלבה כחית שג
וגם נכשם כחלה בי׃ פ
and I baalti baam, translate, I hated them; for ע ain is here changed and stands for ח cheth, as it is said, their soul bachalah bi, translate, hath hated me." None of the Hebrew MSS. collated by Kennicott and De Rossi give any various reading on this word. Some of the versions have used as much latitude in their translations of the Hebrew as the Septuagint. But it is unnecessary to discuss this subject any farther; the word בעל baal itself, by the consent of the most learned men, signifies to disdain or despise, and this is pretty nearly the sense of the apostle's expression.
This is the covenant - This is the nature of that glorious system of religion which I shall publish among them after those days, i.e., in the times of the Gospel.
I will put my laws into their mind - I will influence them with the principles of law, truth, holiness, etc.; and their understandings shall he fully enlightened to comprehend them.
And write them in their hearts - All their affections, passions, and appetites, shall be purified and filled with holiness and love to God and man; so that they shall willingly obey, and feel that love is the fulfilling of the law: instead of being written on tables of stone, they shall be written on the fleshly tables of their hearts.
I will be to them a God - These are the two grand conditions by which the parties in this covenant or agreement are bound:
1. I will be your God.
2. Ye shall be my people.
As the object of religious adoration to any man is that Being from whom he expects light, direction, defense, support, and happiness: so God, promising to be their God, promises in effect to give them all these great and good things. To be God's people implies that they should give God their whole hearts, serve him with all their light and strength, and have no other object of worship or dependence but himself. Any of these conditions broken, the covenant is rendered null and void, and the other party absolved from his engagement.
They shall not teach every man his neighbor - Under the old covenant, properly speaking, there was no public instruction; before the erection of synagogues all worship was confined at first to the tabernacle, afterwards to the temple. When synagogues were established they were used principally for the bare reading of the law and the prophets; and scarcely any such thing as a public ministry for the continual instruction of the common people was found in the land till the time of John the Baptist, our Lord, and his apostles. It is true there were prophets who were a sort of general teachers, but neither was their ministry extended through all the people; and there were schools of the prophets and schools of the rabbins, but these were for the instruction of select persons. Hence it was necessary that every man should do what he could, under that dispensation, to instruct his neighbor and brother. But the prophecy here indicates that there should be, under the Gospel dispensation, a profusion of Divine light; and this we find to be the case by the plentiful diffusion of the sacred writings, and by an abundant Gospel ministry: and these blessings are not confined to temples or palaces, but are found in every corner of the land; so that, literally, all the people, from the least to the greatest, know and acknowledge the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. Almost every man, at least in this land, has a Bible, and can read it; and there is not a family that has not the opportunity of hearing the Gospel preached, explained, and enforced.
Some have thought that from the least to the greatest is intended to signify the order in which God proceeds with a work of grace; he generally begins with the poor, and through these the great and the high often hear the Gospel of Christ.