Notes On Hebrews
The word, “Wherefore,” occurs three times in this chapter, and is designed to arouse a consideration of Christ, lest we be wearied and faint in our minds (vs. 1-3). It provokes a consideration of our conduct lest others be stumbled and depart from the path of faith (vs. 12-13). It also directs attention to the glories of another world to encourage a service for God with reverence and godly fear (v. 28).
Chapter 12 fixes attention on the future blessing of the Christian while, at the same time, it reminds him of the vigilant care he should exercise in the present. The details of the chapter may be expressed in four words; Discipline (vs. 1-11); Duties (vs. 12-17); Dispensation (vs. 18-24); Dangers (vs. 25-29).
Discipline in the Christian race (vs. 1-11). It is important to notice that discipline is not an end in itself; it is always executed in the light of a goal. Christ is the object of the Christian’s life (v. 2); all that he does, whether in secular or spiritual activity, should be done in the attitude of “looking unto Jesus.”
Discipline is emphasized because of the foe that pursues us. The world relentlessly shadows every step; it employs the “contradiction of sinners.” The flesh is after us, so we are to “lay aside every weight.” Let it be remembered that it was the stragglers that Amalek slew when he attacked Israel (Duet. 25:17-18). The devil harasses believers with “the sin which doth so easily beset us,” the sin of unbelief. These are in contrast to the faith of the saints recorded in chapter 11 which led them to victory. None of these can bar an entrance to Heaven. That is assured by the blood of Christ alone. Nevertheless, any one can disqualify for the race. Paul reminds the Galatians, “Ye did run well; who did hinder you?”
In this connection the writer uses a very descriptive word translated “patience.” The word does not mean to passively bear things. Barclay says “It does not mean the weary patience which sits with bowed head, folded hands and mind resigned, and lets the tide of things flow over it and past it.” Rather it means a conquering patience which turns the disappointing and unhappy experiences into victory. It depicts a patience that is not daunted by obstacles, depressed by delays, or defeated by discouragements.
What a beautiful example in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ! He is, at once, our goal and our companion along the way. The goal for Him was reached by way of the cross. He despised the shame for the joy that was set before Him. The Christians following in His steps, press on, enduring as He and remembering the glory of the goal.
Incidentally, the words “weary” and “faint” in verse 3 are the very words Aristotle used of an athlete, who, after surging to victory past the finishing line, flings himself on the ground in panting relaxation and happy collapse. In other words the writer is saying, “Keep on to the finishing line; do not relax before the race is run; keep going on.”
The writer now turns to another aspect of discipline, that which comes directly from the hand of the Father. There are three objectives in the chastening of God’s children: the motive, that they be profited (v. 10); the ministry, that they bear fruit for His glory (v. 11); the manner, loving and tender as God graciously molds us into the image of His Son.
There are four ways in which this training in the way of holiness may be accepted: we may forget it, despise it, faint under it (v. 5), or be exercised by it. If exercised by it, Christians may live in the current of His will (v. 9); may become partners of His holiness (v. 10) and may yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness (v. 11). In these they have the joy of a good conscience, the peace of fellowship with God, and a good testimony before the world.
Let us now consider the Christian’s duties as outlined in verses 12-17. In this connection four members of the body are mentioned; these may suggest four areas of life in which Christian duties should be assumed. The hands suggest work. So often the work of God suffers through indolence. The Lord Himself condemned such inactivity when He spoke the parable of the father who asked his son to work in the vineyard; the son replied, “I go,” but went not. God has set each member in the Body of Christ to function in his place and according to his capacity. It is through discouragement that the hands hang and defeat in our service for the Lord follows.
The knees allude to the devotional life before God. When prayer and worship are neglected, contact with God is broken. God only guides what He governs. We need daily to present ourselves to Him in humble contrition asking that He live out His own life in us.
The feet picture the believer’s walk. This does not refer to a literal walk but rather to the manner of life. Christians are to pursue peace and holiness (v.14), peace toward their fellowsaints and holiness before the Lord. God will not manifest Himself in our lives unless these goals are pursued. The word for holiness is hagiasmos. The root of this word means difference or separation. The Christian’s life is different, his ideals are different; his motivation is different, his goals are different. Wescott says, “His life is the preparation for the presence of God.”
The eyes, looking diligently, represent the outlook in life. The writer asserts that there are three things to watch for: (a) Lest we fail to keep pace with the grace of God. In Micah 4:6 the Prophet says, “I will assemble her that halteth” or “I will collect the stragglers.” It is possible to lag behind, to drift away or to linger and fail to keep abreast of God-given opportunities. (b) Lest we have a root of bitterness. This expression comes from Dueteronomy 29:18 where it describes those who went after strange gods and influenced others to do the same, “Lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood.” We must watch for those influences that would detach from Christ and destroy the true focus of Christian living.
(c) Lest we fall into a sensual, unhallowed life. The word for profane is babelos. Barclay gives us some light on this word. It was used for ground that was profane in contradistinction to ground that was consecrated. The ancient world had its religions in which only the initiated could participate. Babelos is used for the person who was uninitiated as opposed to the man who was devout in his religion. The writer is therefore saying that we should watch lest we lapse into a frame of mind where there is no horizon beyond this world. The sad history of Esau is cited as an example.
The dispensations are now contrasted in verses 18-24, the terror and majesty of Mount Sinai with the tenderness and mercy of Mount Zion. In these are vivid contrasts; law and grace, fear and faith, solitude and fellowship.
There is a peculiar contrast between the blood of Abel and the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ in verse 24. The blood of Abel called for the revenge upon one individual and that for one transgression. The blood of the Lord Jesus which atones, calls for the pardoning mercy of God upon all men in spite of their innumerable transgressions. It speaks better things than that of Abel’s. The only condition is that a soul repent and believe the gospel. Finally, the Spirit of God denotes, in the closing part of the chapter, that there are four dangers:
(a) There is the danger of being deaf to the voice of God (v.25). This is a very real thing in the life of the Christian. Often even in the secular world, as little as twenty-five percent of what is communicated is received and digested by the hearers. How tragic when this is true in spiritual lives! Spiritual success varies directly to sensitiveness to the voice of God. Certainly the injunction to the seven churches is a call to all, “He that hath an ear, let him hear.”
(b) There is the danger of disobedience. The passage warns against refusing Him that speaketh. Obedience to the will of God is a principle that permeates the whole of the Word of God. James compares the life outside the will of God to a vapor that quickly disappears. We can only leave our mark for God in the world as we bring ourselves inside the current of the will of God.
(c) There is the danger of irreverence. We are to obtain grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. This infers that it is possible to live without acceptable service, reverence and godly fear, to live with the senses numbed and the conscience seared. In Philippians 4:8, Paul uses an adjective which, among other adjectives, describes things which should occupy our minds and hearts. The word is semnos, and is translated honest. Barclay says that it describes the man who moves through the world as if it were the temple of God. It describes that which has the dignity of holiness upon it. Arnold translates it, “Nobly serious.” The Christian should be in earnest; he should not be blase and nonchalant; he should consider his life a preparation for eternity.
(d) There is the danger of misinterpreting the character of God. “Our God is a consuming fire.” Isaiah says, “Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire?” Then he gives us six marks of character which are necessary to a walk with God: “He that walketh righteously and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes; that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil. He shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: . .. thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off” (Isa. 33:14-17).
The first step in winning a battle is to know the enemy; having been made aware of the dangers, let us now consciously lay hold on the grace made available to us and, like the saints of old, obtain a good report through faith.