12:1. Wherefore here translates a compound Greek word composed of three lesser particles, each meaning “therefore” or “wherefore.” This very strong combination word occurs only one other time in the New Testament (I Thessalonians 4:8). Here the emphasis is in view of the great cloud of witnesses to whom our author has called attention in the last chapter and whose presence he now puts forward as strong inducement for the faithfulness of his readers.
Cloud frequently stood for a great host in both secular Greek literature and in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 38:9, 16). The Greek word translated witnesses gives the English word “martyrs.” It first meant one who saw or experienced something, then, one who gave a testimony or bore witness of his experience. Because one’s testimony often led to his persecution or even death, the term gradually came to designate one whose witness cost him his life. So derives our word “martyr.” The word carried this idea in several biblical passages although it only later gained this exclusive significance (Nehemiah 9:26; Acts 22:20; Revelation 2:13).
Some of the witnesses of chapter eleven were martyrs in the narrower sense, but they all were witnesses. They had seen Him who is invisible, and they had seen the realities of the world of faith. They had given their testimony to these realities, usually in a hostile environment and to an unbelieving audience. They had been the subject of other testimony, as God gave them a witness that He was pleased with their faith.
The term compassed about or surrounded, as well as the clear athletic imagery which follows, suggests that these individuals are now witnesses in still another sense. “Each of them has, in his own age and in his own way, run his section of the great ‘relay race,’ and, having handed on the torch to his successor, has joined the multitude of interested spectators and skilled judges” (Robinson). Delitzsch speaks of “our life here” as “a contest, its theatre the universe, the seats of the spectators ranged through heaven!” That these witnesses are spectators of our race must be inferred from the context; the word itself does not carry that idea.
Because of these faithful saints who encourage us by their record, and perhaps by their own watching, we are admonished negatively to lay aside every hindrance or distraction, and positively to run with patience or endurance the course which has been laid out for us.
Weight is used in the literature of the time of any excess poundage, frequently of obesity or stoutness, which the athlete must shed before he runs The Christian must put off all that does not measure up to his calling and is not becoming to his intentions. The term also suggests the weights worn by an athlete in training which are then laid aside for the actual contest.
Sin surrounds the believer to distract him from the goal. Like the flowing garment worn in the first century, it also clings to him and impedes his progress. Sin itself, of every sort and all kinds, must be renounced by the man running the race of faith. This present context suggests the particular sin of disbelief which results in apostasy.
It is not enough to begin the race only to fall during its course. This was the point of Israel’s example in chapters three and four, and the thought which triggered the present discussion in 10:36. The Christian must run with patience the race set before him. The object is not speed but endurance. The prize is not for the first runner through but for every runner who finishes.
Paul uses the imagery of the runner in several epistles (see I Corinthians 9:24-27; Galatians 2:2; Philippians 216; II Timothy 4:7). The terms “fight,” “strive,” and “conflict” often represent a single Greek word also taken from the vocabulary of the athlete or soldier.
Similar language is used in the so-called Fourth Book of Maccabees, a Jewish writing of uncertain date and authorship, which credits the victories of Jewish heroes to the use of proper reason. I quote the following passage because many readers will not have opportunity to see it elsewhere. Speaking of his intertestamental heroes the writer says:
For truly it was a holy war which was fought by them. For on that day virtue, proving them through endurance, set before them the prize of victory in incorruption in everlasting life. . . . The tyrant was their adversary and the world and the life of man were the spectators. And righteousness won the victory, and gave the crown to her athletes. Who but wondered at the athletes of the true Law? (17:11-17).
12:2. Patience for the course may be found by looking intently and constantly unto Jesus, who is not only a witness of faith but is its author, or pioneer (the same word used at 2:10) and its finisher or perfecter. Barnes applies these two expressions to the race official who enrolls entrants and awards the final prizes, but he gives no support for this interpretation. More likely the thought is that Jesus (our author here uses His human name, perhaps to stress His unity with His people) is author of faith because He was the first to run faith’s course all the way to its goal in heaven. He is finisher or perfecter because He leads all who follow Him to the same finish or end or goal (see I Peter 1:9).
Jesus has experienced faith’s trials and its reward. The joy set before him may refer to His delight in doing the will of God (Psalm 40:8; Hebrews 10:5-10), but it has special reference to the promised position of Savior and Lord which He would be given on behalf of His people (see 2:9; 5:4-10; Isaiah 53:10-12). Jesus received God’s promise in faith. He placed Himself within the Father’s purpose in simple and wholehearted trust. He then endured all that came in the course of the Father’s will with forward-looking faith and joy and hope.
The cross was a symbol of great shame in the first century world. It represented a death reserved for political insurrectionists or the basest of criminals. Roman citizens were not only guaranteed immunity from crucifixion (Peter was crucified but Paul was beheaded, according to reliable tradition) but Cicero urged Romans not to talk about, look at or think on this death. Yet Christ despised or considered as insignificant this ignoble suffering when measured against the joy to be had through patient submission to the will of God.
Nor was His faith in vain, for when this epistle was written Christ was already set dawn at the right hand of the throne of God. The verb tense here indicates not only that He had taken this seat but that He still occupies it! For a discussion of the use of Psalm 110 in the New Testament see comments at 1:13; 8:1 and 10:12. Christ led the way in the procession of faith. He has now arrived at faith’s goal. He now guarantees the safe passage of all who follow Him in trusting endurance.
12:3. Consider this Jesus, our author urges. Do not merely glance at Him, but literally “draw an analogy” between His situation and your own. He endured verbal and active contradiction or opposition from sinners. Compare your own sufferings to His so that you do not become wearied and faint or fall out in your minds. The words point again to the race track and the runner who tires to the point of exhaustion.
12:4. In contrast to Jesus, the readers have not yet resisted unto blood. Some think this expression alludes to the barehanded boxers of the day who fought until their hands were bleeding and bruised. Your striving or fight against sin has not reached this point of total dedication, our author would be saying. It is possible, however, to regard the words in the most natural sense and say the original readers of Hebrews had not yet faced the threat of martyrdom, though some of their predecessors might have (13:7). Jesus followed the way of faith to the cross. His followers must also be willing to die for their faith, if necessary.
12:5-6. In verses five through eleven our writer presents another figure with different imagery. You have forgotten the exhortation of Proverbs 3:11-12, he says, in which the believer views his circumstances as discipline from a father who loves his children. Much of the wisdom contained in Proverbs (particularly chapters 1-7) is addressed by the king to his son. The words which follow are taken from that setting and are applied to God’s children of the new covenant
Chastening in this entire context translates a more general word meaning discipline in all its forms. It involves the training of a son by the father. It is the discipline or training which makes disciples. Such discipline is a sure proof of the father’s love (see Revelation 3:19). For this reason its recipients ought not to despise or belittle its value and purpose. God first disciplines, then receives, His child who has been so molded.
12:7. If is only one letter different in the original language from a preposition meaning “for” or “unto,” and the better manuscripts and later versions here have the latter. It is for the very kind of discipline or chastening described just now that ye presently endure, the author points out. God is simply treating you as sons, and sons are disciplined by their fathers. Your suffering is neither without God’s knowledge or His purpose. The verb may also be translated as an imperative (“endure for the purpose of discipline”), but it is probably a simple indicative stating what is the case.
12:8. If you were without any chastisement or discipline there would be cause for alarm, for it is the illegitimate son who is unrestrained, untrained, unpunished and sometimes unknown by his father. The son who will bear the father’s name with pride in the next generation must bear up under the father’s rod now if he is to be fitted for the task. Again our author joins warning to reassurance. “But you are all partakers of this discipline and may therefore know you are beloved children” (see 6:9; 10:39).
12:9. Ordinary human experience demonstrates these truths. We have all had human, fleshly fathers. They corrected us. We later understood and appreciated that discipline — and even then we gave them reverence or respect. How much rather should we be in subjection to our spiritual father, whose discipline is part of His grand design to lead us to abiding and true life in communion with Him!
“Fathers of our flesh” is a Hebraic manner of saying “our fleshly fathers.” “Father of spirits” is in simple contrast to the other expression, and ought not to be strained to fit either side of the metaphysical argument concerning the origin of individual spirits. Milligan sees a special contrast.
Our earthly fathers are like ourselves, carnal, frail, sinful mortals . . . liable to err in their discipline. . . . God . . . has none of the weaknesses and infirmities of the flesh . . . [and] cannot like our earthly fathers err in His chastisements.
That contrast is clearly made in the next verse.
12:10. During the few days of our childhood, our earthly fathers chastened or trained us after their own pleasure. Sometimes they might have acted hastily or in anger; they always acted under human limitations of knowledge and design. Our heavenly Father, on the other hand, knows exactly what is needful for our profit as He prepares us to be partakers or sharers of his holiness. This holiness involves not only the judicial pronouncement of a new state because of union with Christ (10:10, 14, 29), but also a daily life of godly thinking and behavior (see verse 14).
12:11. One writer remarked of this verse that “the only proper commentary is our own personal experience.” All discipline, however instructive, is painful at the time it is administered, but later its benefits are seen in those who appropriate the intended training. The peaceable fruit of such training is righteousness. Peace and righteousness are related in both the Old (Isaiah 32:17) and the New Testaments (James 3:18). Here the fruit is peaceable in contrast to the discipline which produced it.
12:12. In this verse and the next our author quotes from Isaiah 35:3 and the Greek version of Proverbs 4:26. He changes imagery to that of a group of wayfarers on a journey, and builds on this figure through verse 17.
Lift up the weary travelers’ hands which hang down slack and loose from exhaustion; lend strength to the feeble knees which have lost their power to hold up and have become as paralyzed. These were appropriate exhortations as addressed to Jews who would return to their homeland from faraway Persia. (The journey theme is also seen in Isaiah 40:3-4, 29-31; 43:2, 5-7, 19-21; 48:20-21; 49:8-13; 52:10-11; 58:11-12). The same exhortations are appropriately given to faith-pilgrims of the new covenant who have become weary in well doing and are about to faint with fatigue. It should also be noticed that this encouragement is given to believers as a company, and that their pilgrimage involves mutual concern and careful attention to one another (see comments at 3:12-13; 9:17; 10:24).
12:13. As believers travel together toward the heavenly city, they are to make straight paths so that the feet of those who are lame will not be turned out of the way. The latter phrase has been translated two ways. The reading of the King James Version agrees with the thought of the Greek text of Proverbs 4:26-27, which urges making straight paths, then says not to turn to the right hand or to the left. Many other versions translate our author equally well with a slightly different thought as “lest the lame limb be dislocated altogether,” or words to that effect. This translation more obviously contrasts with the next statement of this verse, but let it rather be healed.
Either phrasing is possible from the Greek and both thoughts are appropriate. Let the Christian pilgrim remove from the path anything that would impede the progress of his weak brethren or cause them to stumble. Let nothing be left before them which would cause one to miss the trail or would trip a lame traveler and put his limbs completely out of joint. Rather let each sojourner hear with his fellows, lend them strength when needed, help with the burdens of the weak, encourage the faint-hearted and clear the path for those who are tired and weak.
The verb form of the word here translated lame is used in I Kings 18:21 (Greek translation) of those Israelites who were “halting between two opinions” and could not decide whether to serve Jehovah or Baal. This passage suggests at least one form of lameness which afflicted the weak Hebrew saints who first received this epistle. They were weak in the faith. They were wobbling between allegiance to Jesus Christ and to their former Jewish religion. The term should not be limited to this application though it seems to include it.
12:14. In their journey together it is essential that the travelers follow or actively seek peace with all their companions. The phrase is from Psalm 34:14. Peter quotes it also in his letter which, interesting enough, is addressed “to those who reside as aliens” (I Peter 3:11; 1:1, New American Standard Bible).
Such scriptural injunctions to peace or love need not be followed by immediate explanations which practically annul the biblical point. It is a pitiable generation in which the church is so strife-infested that peace and love are held as unholy words in some quarters. Many church quarrels have been blamed on error or attributed to truth which actually resulted from carnal and fleshly minds. The fault has often been with some who refused to put others ahead of self, to bear patiently with the weak, to seek peace at the expense of personal pride or opinions. In short, through the sinful attitudes and conduct of some who refused to obey the clear teaching of the Word of God. It is one thing to stand for clear truth against clear error. It is quite another to call all one’s own thoughts and inferences “truth,” then immediately draw the circle of peace closely about those personal conclusions.
Those following Jesus in the highway of faith must seek holiness as well as peace, for without holiness no man shall see the Lord. Only the pure in heart will see God (Matthew 5:8). Holiness has always been required of God’s people, and the command has always been grounded in the character of God who gave it (Leviticus 11:45; I Peter 1:15-16). If peace makes association possible with brethren, holiness makes it possible with God.
12:15. Looking diligently translates a Greek word from which comes our “overseer” or “bishop.” It is “as if they were travelling together on some long journey, in a large company, and he says, ‘Take heed that no man be left behind’ I do not seek this only, that ye may arrive yourselves, but also that ye should look diligently after the others” (Chrysostom). It is the duty of the experienced (elder) Christian shepherds (pastors) to look carefully to the spiritual needs of their flock as overseers (bishops), and this responsibility is laid directly upon them by the Holy Spirit. As the same time, every pilgrim of faith has a similar duty to his fellow-wayfarers, and that is the point of this verse.
A congregation of saints will never enjoy the blessings of brotherhood and Christian love that God provides and intends so long as it conceives of itself primarily in institutional or external terms. The Christian religion is a religion of togetherness: saints together constitute the family of God in each place. They are to love as brethren. It is so difficult for men today to pass beyond the carnal view of the church, as a sort of religious club or organization’ to its true nature as revealed in the Bible. This view must be seen if saints are ever to comprehend the real beauty of their actual state together in Christ.
Look diligently so that no one fail or come short of (see also 4:1) the grace of God that is given freely in Christ and enjoyed by faith. The figure here is that of the traveler who lags behind and never reaches the end of the journey. It is a sin of too many churches that saints may wander in one day and out the next with very little notice given either to their presence or absence. God’s words concerning His Old Testament church often describe His New Testament people as well: “My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill; yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them” (Ezekiel 34:6).
Still using the pilgrimage motif, our author warns against any root of bitterness, or poisonous root, which might be cut as for food and result in widespread contamination of the people. The term comes from Deuteronomy 29:18, where Moses uses it figuratively to warn Israel against turning from God to idols. Our author has already spoken against an evil heart of unbelief which leads one from the living God (3:12). Here he repeats the warning in figurative terms.
12:16. Watch diligently for any fornicator, not in the limited usage of the word alone, but as signifying any moral uncleanness. Some interpret this warning as against spiritual adultery, and equate it with turning from God. Our writer warns against sexual impurity, however, in 13:4, and it is preferable to take the warning literally here.
The profane person is one who has no regard for what is holy. He is unable — or worse, unwilling — to distinguish between what is common and what is holy. Such an attitude frequently leads to immorality as well as other sins.
Esau is given as an example of a profane man. Jewish tradition made him a fornicator as well. For one morsel of meat or food he sold his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34). “The rights of primogeniture were among the most noble, honorable, and spiritual in the ancient world” (Barnes). Esau not only “despised,” his double portion of the inheritance, he scoffed at his role in the patriarchal line through which God’s covenant promises and election purposes were to be fulfilled. Behind many particular sins lies a basic inability to distinguish between what hat is valuable and what is of little importance. Christians who fail to appreciate their position in the Lord Jesus Christ are often prone to grievous sins. The best preventative against sin is a constant awareness of who and what one is called and called to be in the Son of God, and a regular meditation on one’s position as he stands identified with the blameless Son before the Father.
12:17. The consequences of profanity involve not only the present loss of blessing but also the future impossibility of renewal. The disregard for what is holy, which leads to sin in the first place, also prevents true repentance — even when the profane man sees his final end and is overcome with remorse. Esau also illustrates this fact (see comments at 10:26-29).
Ye know from the Old Testament story how that afterward when Esau desired to inherit the blessing he was rejected (Genesis 27:30-40). Three phrases in this verse are subject to more than one interpretation. Was Esau rejected by Isaac, by God, or by both? Did Esau find no place of repentance in himself or in his father or in both? Did he seek carefully with tears the blessing, or a place for repentance?
Esau’s rejection may safely be said to have been by both God and lsaac, since the patriarchal blessing was ultimately given by God through the father (see comment at 11:20) When Isaac affirmed the certainty of Jacob’s blessing, he was pointing out its divine origin (Genesis 27:33).
Esau found no place for repentance because there was no change of his father’s mind regarding the blessing already given. Delitzsch sees Esau as “a type of the hopelessly apostate” and argues that he did not experience true repentance himself at all, but simply changed his mind about the inheritance and blessing when he realized the point to which his careless attitude had led. Repentance here has its most basic meaning of a change of mind, but it involves a change of mind that seeks to change the effects of the previous disposition. Esau could not find such a change of mind in his father Isaac, nor was he able to change the effects of his own former attitude (whether or not he had the same attitude still).
Esau sought the blessing with tears (Genesis 27:38), but this involved tears for his father’s change of mind. Both alternatives ought here to be included.
12:18. Again the imagery changes, this time to terms based on the giving of the Law at Sinai. Ye who follow Jesus, the enthroned Son at the Father’s right hand, are not come to a mountain such as Sinai. There ancient Israel had gathered as God’s elect nation, to receive the details and requirements of the covenant which graciously bound them to Him. According to the accounts of Exodus (19:16, 18) and Deuteronomy (4:11; 5:23; 9:15), the top of Sinai burned with fire. The lower parts of the mountain were hidden by the blackness and darkness of the storm clouds which covered them. Out of the clouds came loud noises and bursts of fierce storm and tempest.
12:19. When the people heard a sound as of a trumpet (Exodus 19:16-19) and the voice of words from God (Deuteronomy 5:22), they entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more directly, but rather through the mediation of Moses (Exodus 20:18-19; Deuteronomy 5:23-27).
12:20. The assembly of Israel was awed and terror-stricken by the thought of God’s command (Exodus 19: 12-13) that if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned. The phrase thrust through with a dart is not in the better manuscripts or in most later versions. The Old Testament command has the animal stoned (apparently if it wanders off the mountain within distance of the people) or shot (with an arrow, if it remains on the mountain out of the people’s reach).
12:21. Even Moses was so overcome by the terrible or terror-inspiring sight as to remark, I exceedingly fear and quake. This statement is not reported in the Old Testament, though it is in keeping with what is stated there. Exodus 19:19 says that when the trumpet sound became louder and louder “Moses spoke, and God answered him by a voice.” What Moses said is not told. The Greek text of Exodus 19:18 says that all the people were driven out of their senses for fear, and Moses would certainly be included in that statement. Whether our author depends on that text or some other source for his information we do not know. What he writes, however, is Scripture, and as such has the absolute approval and endorsement of the Holy Spirit.
12:22. As fearful and terrifying as that scene was, the new-covenant saint has approached Clod under circumstances and in company far more demanding of a faithful response.
The word translated ye are come (here and at verse 18) in its noun form gives the English word “proselyte,” suggestive perhaps of the move of the Hebrews from Judaism to Christ. All Christians, however, have come at conversion, and remain throughout life, in the presence of the figures and elements which follow.
Mount Zion is literally Zion-mountain, in contrast to Sinai-mountain. Zion was first a Jebusite stronghold in the Old Testament, but David captured it with his private army and made it his capital of united Israel (II Samuel 5:6-9). Since it had not formerly been a part of Judah or Israel, Zion was politically independent, much as Washington, D.C. in the United States. David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Zion in the next chapter. God’s approval is seen in the dynastic and messianic promises given to David through the prophet Nathan (II Samuel 7; see I Kings 14:21; Psalm 78:68).
Solomon’s Temple was actually on Mount Moriah, but the term Zion came to include that as well. In the Psalms, Zion is frequently celebrated as the holy city of God’s choosing and the meeting place of His people Israel (see 120-134, especially 132-134).
The reference here is not to physical Zion, but to its heavenly prototype, which is part of the city of the living God. Our author has spoken already of this city (11:10, 14-16). He mentions it again in 13:14. We have not come to an earthly city, but to the heavenly Jerusalem where God dwells in glory.
A glorified Jerusalem was the subject of much Jewish speculation (between the testaments, including material from the Dead Sea Scrolls) and of some revelation (the very difficult chapters 40-48 of Ezekiel). The author of Hebrews adds to inspired knowledge on the topic, as do Paul and John (see references and comments at 11:10). That is not to say that all these biblical passages apply to the same things in every detail; each must be studied in its awn context for the specific meaning. This verse clearly refers to the place where God dwells, to which Christ has opened the way by passing through the veil in His flesh, and to which Christians have come in their new-covenant faith in Him.
Included in this same awe-inspiring scene are an innumerable company, literally tens of thousands or myriads, of angels (see Psalm 68:17; Daniel 7:10; Revelation 5:11). These angels are sent forth by God for the service of His saints on earth (1:14), but in all their activities they exist for the praise of God.
12:23. The general assembly translates a word which gives the English “panegyric.” This Greek term is used in Greek literature of a public festival or celebration attended by all the people. Such celebrations usually included the praise of great men. There is some controversy as to whether the festive assembly here includes only the angels or also those mentioned next.
Church should be interpreted in its literal sense here of an assembly. It is composed of the firstborn ones (plural in the original) who are written or enrolled as citizens in the city of God in heaven. The phrase has been taken as of the angels or of first-generation Christians, but it seems best to think of the church of the firstborn ones as being the church of Christ of all times and all places on earth. As firstborn ones, Christians must heed the warning against profaneness already given concerning Esau, another firstborn (verses 16-17).
God, the Judge of all, is present, and He will acquit or condemn each man. Here is a word of comfort for a suffering church, for God’s judgments will involve a vindication of its cause (see comments at 10:30-31). That the presence of God speaks of comfort and not fear for His people is seen in the phrase that follows.
The spirits of just men made perfect refers to those saints who lived and died before Christ but who walked according to faith during their lives. They are declared just because the Judge has viewed their faith and pronounced them so on the basis of Christ’s atonement (9:15). They are now made perfect or complete because they have arrived at the state of blessed rest with the Lord which was publicly announced with the beginning of the gospel proclamation. And the gospel speaks essentially of the life, death and resurrection of the eternal Son who partook of flesh and blood, but now sits as eternal Priest-King at the right hand of God. Just as the ancient saints could not be made perfect without their new-covenant counterparts (11:40), so we must live in view of them (see comments at 12:1).
12:24. Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant is present (see 8:6). Jesus is His saving name and associates Him with His earthly brethren (Matthew 1:21; Hebrews 2:9-18). New here means “recent,” and refers to the nearness in time between these first readers and the covenant Jesus had inaugurated shortly before. The presence of Jesus speaks assurance, for He is surety of the new covenant promises (see comments at 7:22, 25; also Appendix IV on Christ’s Sacrifice and the Christian).
The blood of sprinkling is the blood of Christ. Our writer has already spoken of sprinkled blood in terms of purification (9:13-14; 10:22), of covenant-ratification (9:19), and of Passover (11:28). Each figure bespeaks blessings for those bound to the Son who has now shed His blood on their behalf.
Christ’s blood speaks better or more powerfully than the blood associated with Abel, whether one thinks of Abel’s own blood shed by Cain or the sacrificial blood he shed by faith. Christ’s blood also speaks of better things than either blood, for Abel’s sacrifice spoke of atonement hoped-for, and his own blood called for vengeance. Christ’s blood, however, assures all martyrs of faith that their blood was not shed in vain, and it speaks of an atonement which Christ has already accomplished and the Father has already accepted.
The two covenants are contrasted in this manner. The first began at fearful Mount Sinai, a mountain characterized by warnings and threats. The second began with glorious Mount Zion, populated by servant angels and saved men praising a holy God and His priestly Son. The first description closed with a voice of words which sent the people scurrying and left even Moses trembling. The second description closed with a Mediator’s blood which speaks with eloquence and power of an accomplished atonement and the reward of faithfulness.
The exhortation to steadfastness in the midst of affliction is now coming to an end. Our author has demonstrated himself in this chapter to be a user as well as an author of Scripture. His exhortation here is built around four figures. First is the spiritual athlete, striving for the prize. He is encouraged by the former contestants who now watch but especially by Jesus who is both author and finisher of faith. Second is the child, who meekly learns from the purposeful discipline of his loving father. Third is the company of pilgrims, who watch for one another as they move toward their destination. Fourth is the contrast between the Old Testament and New Testament churches, as gathered respectively before their covenant God.
The first illustration called on chapter eleven, which itself drew from the entire Old Testament and intertestamental periods. The second illustration came from Proverbs representing the Writings portion of the Hebrew Old Testament. The third was based on Isaiah, though it drew from other parts of Scripture as well. It stood for the Prophets. The fourth came from Exodus and Deuteronomy, standing for the books of Moses, the Torah.
In the final five verses of the chapter, our author looks again to the prophetic portion of his Scriptures, there finding words for his closing appeal.
12:25. See or take heed that you do not refuse God who is speaking. The thought is directly related to the epistle’s opening affirmation that God has spoken (1:1-2). How He has spoken and what He has said have been our author’s themes throughout. Now He urges care lest the readers fail to respond to the final message in the Son.
They who refused him that spoke on earth refers to Israel. They heard God’s voice from the smoking mountain (verses 18-21) but failed to heed it and were destroyed (3:8-4:11). If here expresses certainty, not indefiniteness; “since” would be a proper translation. Since their judgment was so sure, though pertaining to an earth-given revelation, punishment is much more certain for those who turn away from God now that He has spoken from heaven. See the opening comments on chapter two for a discussion of this type of argument and other references where it is used.
12:26. When God spoke from Sinai, His voice shook the earth (Exodus 19:18; Psalm 18:7; 68:8; 114:4). But we now have His promise that yet once more He will shake not the earth only, but also heaven. The promise is found in Haggai 2:6, and was given by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest at the dedication of the rebuilt Temple in 516 B.C. Our author applies the words to the final Day of the Lord (see comments at 10:25).
12:27. The words yet once more, our author explains, denote the removing of those things that are shaken. For if God will shake the earth once more, and apparently only once more, that shaking must come at the final shaking of the earth which will also be its removing. This is to be expected, he adds, for these are things that are made, and they are by nature temporary (see 1:10-12). Further, it is necessary that those things be shaken and removed, so that those things of the invisible and eternal order which cannot be shaken may remain. It might not be straining the point to say that the trembling of Sinai was an indication that the order it represented would one day pass away, just as the passing glory of Moses’ face on that occasion is said to indicate the same thing (II Corinthians 3:7-14).
12:28. Our covenant is based on a word from heaven, however, and is an administration of the eternal and heavenly realities (8:1, 2, 5; 9:1, 11, 24). We have, in fact, received a kingdom which cannot he moved or shaken or ever destroyed. It is the everlasting kingdom of prophecy (Daniel 7:27). We ought, therefore, to have grace (a regular Greek expression for giving thanks), through which we may serve God acceptably with reverence or pious respect and godly fear.
12:29. Such reverence and respectful fear is absolutely required in view of the fact that our God is a consuming fire. The phrase comes from Deuteronomy 4:24 (see that context), but the thought is found in numerous passages (see a partial listing in comments on 10:27.
It is an aspect of the character of God as revealed in the Bible that plays little part in much present-day thinking about Him; but if we are to be completely “honest to God,” we dare not ignore it. Reverence and awe before His holiness are not incompatible with grateful trust and love in response to His mercy (Bruce).
A study of the Bible reveals that those men in each age who were closest to God and enjoyed the most intimate fellowship with Him have been also the most awed by His holiness. One thinks immediately of Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Paul or the Apostle John. The greatest example is our Lord, who on occasion used the intimate term “Abba,” but who more frequently is recorded as addressing God as “Holy Father” or “Righteous Father.” Boldness is not audacity. “God is love” must always be joined to “our God is a consuming fire,” for holy love demands a fire of judgment, and that fire is holy which consumes the adversaries of God and His people.
Next: Chapter Thirteen