An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
Christ Superior to Moses
Our present portion introduces us to the third division of the Epistle, a division which runs on to Hebrews 4:6. The first division, comprising but the three opening verses of the first chapter, evidences the superiority of Christ over the prophets. The second division, Hebrews 1:4 to the end of chapter 2, sets forth the superiority of Christ over the angels. The one we are now commencing treats of the superiority of Christ over Moses. "The contents of this section may be stated briefly thus: That the Lord Jesus Christ, the mediator of the new covenant, is high above Moses, the mediator of the old dispensation, inasmuch as Jesus is the Son of God, and Lord over the house; whereas Moses is the servant of God, who is faithful in the house. And upon this doctrinal statement is based the exhortation, that we should not harden our hearts lest we fail to enter into that rest of which the possession of the promised land was only an imperfect type. This section consists of two parts—a doctrinal statement, which forms the basis, and an exhortation resting upon it" (Saphir).
Of all the godly characters brought before us in the Old Testament scriptures, there is not one who has higher claims on our attentive consideration than the legislator of Israel. Whether we think of his remarkable infancy and childhood, his self-sacrificing renunciation (Heb. 11:24-26), the commission he received from God and his faithfulness in executing it, his devotion to Israel (Exo. 32:32), his honored privileges (Exo. 31:18), or the important revolutions accomplished through his instrumentality; "it will be difficult to find," as another has said, "in the records either of profane or sacred history, an individual whose character is so well fitted at once to excite attachment and command veneration, and whose history is so replete at once with interest and instruction."
The history of Moses was remarkable from beginning to end. The hand of Providence preserved him as a babe, and the hand of God dug his grave at the finish. Between those terms he passed through the strangest and most contrastive vicissitudes which, surely, any mortal has ever experienced. The honors conferred upon him by God were much greater than any bestowed upon any other man, before or since. During the most memorable portion of their history, all of God’s dealings with Israel were transacted through him. His position of nearness to Jehovah was remarkable, awesome, unique. He was in his own person, prophet, priest and king. Through him the whole of the Levitical economy was instituted. By him the Tabernacle was built. Thus we can well understand the high esteem in which the Jews held this favored man of God—cf. John 9:28, 29.
Yet great as was Moses, the Holy Spirit in this third section of Hebrews calls upon us to consider One who so far excelled him as the heavens are above the earth. First, Christ was the immeasurable superior of Moses in His own person: Moses was a man of God, Christ was God Himself. Moses was the fallen descendant of Adam. conceived in sin and shapen in iniquity; Christ was sinless, impeccable, holy. Again; Christ was the immeasurable superior of Moses in His Offices. Moses was a prophet, through whom God spake; Christ was Himself "the Truth," revealing perfectly the whole mind, will, and heart of God. Moses executed priestly functions (Exo. 24:6; 32:11); but Christ is the "great High Priest." Moses was "king in Jeshurun" (Deut. 33:5); Christ is "King of kings." To mention only one other comparison, Christ was the immeasurable superior of Moses in His work. Moses delivered Israel from Egypt, Christ delivers His people from the everlasting burnings. Moses built an earthly tabernacle, Christ is now preparing a place for us on High. Moses led Israel across the wilderness but not into the Canaan itself; Christ will actually bring many sons "unto glory." May the Holy Spirit impress our hearts more and more with the exalted dignity and unique excellency of our Savior.
"Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus" (verse 1). There are three things in this verse which claim our attention: the exhortation given, the people addressed, the characters in which Christ is here contemplated. The exhortation is a call to "consider" Christ. The people addressed are "holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling." The characters in which the Savior is viewed are "the Apostle and High Priest."
"Wherefore." This word gives the connecting link between the two chapters which precede and the two that follow. It is a perfect transition, for it looks both ways. In regard to that which goes before, our present verse makes known the use we are to make of it; we are to "consider" Christ, to have our hearts fixed upon Him who is "altogether lovely." In regard to that which follows, this basic exhortation lays a foundation for the succeeding admonitions: if we render obedience to this precept, then we shall be preserved from the evils which overtook Israel of old—hardening of the heart, grieving the Lord, missing our "rest."
The exhortation given here is, "Wherefore . . . consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession." Three questions call for answers: what is meant by "considering" Him; why we should do so; the special characters in which He is to be considered. There are no less than eleven Greek words in the New Testament all rendered "consider," four of them being simple ones; seven, compounds. The one employed by the Holy Spirit in Hebrews 3:1 signifies to thoroughly think of the matter, so as to arrive at a fuller knowledge of it. It was the word used by our Lord in His "consider the ravens, consider the lilies" (Luke 12:24, 27). It is the word which describes Peter’s response to the vision of the sheet let down from heaven: "I considered and saw fourfooted beasts" (Acts 11:6). It is found again in Matthew 7:3, Romans 4:19, Hebrews 10:24. In Acts 7:31 "katanoeo" is rendered "to behold." In Luke 20:23 it is translated "perceived." In all, the Greek word is found fourteen times in the New Testament.
To "consider" Christ as here enjoined, means to thoroughly ponder who and what He is; to attentively weigh His dignity, His excellency, His authority; to think of what is due to Him. It is failure to thoroughly weigh important considerations which causes us to let them "slip" (Heb. 2:1). On the other hand, it is by diligently pondering things of moment and value that the understanding is enabled to better apprehend them, the memory to retain them, the heart to be impressed, and the individual to make a better use of them. To "consider" Christ means to behold Him, not simply by a passing glance or giving to Him an occasional thought, but by the heart being fully occupied with Him. "Set Me as a seal upon thine heart" (Song 8:6), is His call to us. And it is our failure at this point which explains why we know so little about Him, why we love Him so feebly, why we trust Him so imperfectly.
The motive presented by the Spirit here as to why we should so "consider" Christ is intimated in the opening "Wherefore." It draws a conclusion from all that precedes. Because Christ is the One through whom Deity is now fully and finally manifested, because He is the Brightness of God’s glory and the very Impress of His substance; because, therefore, He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than the angels; because He, in infinite grace, became "all of one" with those that He came to redeem, having made propitiation for the sins of His people; because He is now seated at the right hand of the Majesty on High, and while there is "a merciful and faithful High Priest;" because He has Himself suffered being tempted and is able to succor them who are tempted;—therefore, He is infinitely worthy of our constant contemplation and adoration. The opening "Wherefore" is also an anticipatory inference from what follows: because Christ is worthy of more honor than Moses, therefore, "consider" Him.
There are two special characters in which the Holy Spirit here bids us contemplate Christ. First, as "the Apostle." This has reference to the prophetical office of Christ, the title being employed because an "apostle" was the highest minister appointed in New Testament times. An apostleship had more honors conferred upon it than any other position in the church (Eph. 4:11): thus the excellency of Christ’s prophetic office is magnified. The term apostle means one "sent forth" of God, endowed with authority as His ambassador. In John’s Gospel Christ is frequently seen as the "Sent One," 3:34, 5:36, etc. The general function of Christ as a prophet, an apostle, a minister of the Word, was to make known the will of His Father unto His people. This He did, see John 8:26, etc. His special call to that function was immediate: "as My Father hath sent Me, so send I you" (John 20:21).
Christ is more than an apostle, He is "the Apostle," that is why none others, not even Paul, are mentioned in this Epistle. He eclipses all others. He was the first apostle, the twelve being appointed by Him. His apostolic jurisdiction was more extensive than others; Peter was an apostle of the circumcision. Paul of the Gentiles; but Christ preached both to them that were nigh and to them that were far off (Eph. 2:17). He received the Spirit more abundantly than any other (John 3:34). With Him the Messenger was the message: He was Himself "the Truth." The miracles He wrought (the "signs of an apostle" 2 Corinthians 12:12) were mightier and more numerous than those of others. Verily, Christ is "the Apostle," for in all things He has the pre-eminence. The special duty for us arising therefrom is, "Hear ye Him" (Matt. 17:5)—cf. Deuteronomy 18:15, 18.
The second character in which we are here bidden to "consider" Christ Jesus, is as the "High Priest of our profession." As the priesthood of Christ will come before us, D.V., in detail in the later chapters, only a few remarks thereon will now be offered. As we have already been told, the Lord Jesus is "a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God" (Heb. 2:17). This at once gives us the principal feature which differentiates His priestly from His prophetic office. As Prophet, Christ is God’s representative to His people; as "Priest," He is their representative before God. As the Apostle He speaks to us from God, as our High Priest He speaks for us to God. The two offices are conjoined in John 13:3, "He was from God, and went to God." Thus He fills the whole space between God and us: as Apostle He is close to me; as Priest, He is close to God.
"Of our profession." The Greek word here is a compound and properly signifies "a consent." In the New Testament, it is used for the confession of a thing (1 Tim. 6:12, 13), and to set forth the faith which Christians profess (Heb. 4:14). Here it may be taken either for an act on our part—the confessing Christ to be "the Apostle and High Priest," or, the subject matter of the faith we profess. Christians are not ashamed to own Him, for He is not ashamed to own them. The apostleship and priesthood of Christ are the distinguishing subjects of our faith, for Christianity centers entirely around the person of Christ. The confession is that which faith makes, see Hebrews 10:23. The cognate of this word is found in Hebrews 11:13 and Hebrews 13:15, "giving thanks:" these two references emphasizing the "stranger and pilgrim" character of this profession, of which Christ Jesus is the Apostle and High Priest.
It remains now for us to notice the people to whom this exhortation is addressed: they are denominated "holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling." These Hebrews were addressed as "brethren" because they belonged spiritually to the family of God. "He evidently refers to the blessed truth just announced, that Jesus, the Son of God, is not ashamed to call us brethren" (Heb. 2:11). He means therefore those who by the Spirit of God have been born again, and who can call God their Father. He addresses those of God who are in Christ Jesus, who were quickened together with Him; for when He rose from the dead He was ‘the first-born among many brethren’. He calls them ‘holy brethren,’ because upon this fact of brotherhood is based their sanctification: ‘He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one’" (Saphir). No doubt the "holy brethren" was also designed to distinguish them from their brethren according to the flesh, the unbelieving Jews. By his use of this appellation the apostle to the Gentiles evidenced his interest in and love for the Hebrews: he acknowledged and esteemed them as "brethren."
"What an interesting and delightful view is thus presented to our minds of genuine Christians scattered all over the earth—belonging to every kindred, and people, and tongue, and nation—distinguished from one another in an almost infinite variety of ways, as to talent, temper, education, rank, circumstances, yet bound together by an invisible band, even the faith of the truth, to the one great object of their confidence, and love, and obedience, Christ Jesus—forming one great brotherhood, devoted to the honor and service of His Father and their Father, His God and their God! Do you belong to this holy brotherhood? The question is an important one. For answer, note Christ’s words in Matthew 12:50" (Dr. J. Brown).
"Partakers of the heavenly calling." This at once serves to emphasize the superiority of Christianity over Judaism, which knew only an earthly calling, with an earthly inheritance. The word "partakers" signifies "sharers of." The calling wherewith the Christian is called (Eph. 4:1) is heavenly, because of its origin—it proceeds from Heaven; because of the means used—the Spirit and the Word, which have come from Heaven; because of the sphere of our citizenship (Phil. 3:20); because of the end to which we are called—an eternal Heaven. Thus would the Holy Spirit press upon the sorely-tried Hebrews the inestimable value of their privileges.
Finally, the whole of this appellation should be viewed in the light of the relation between those addressed and Christ. How is it possible for sinful worms of the earth to be thus denominated? Because of their union with the incarnate Son, whose excellency is imputed to them, and whose position they share. We are partakers of the heavenly calling because He, in wondrous condescension, partook of our earthly lot. What He has, we have; where He is, we are. He is the Holy One of God, therefore are we holy. He has been "made higher than the heavens," therefore are we "partakers of the heavenly calling!" Just so far as our hearts really lay hold of this, shall we walk as "strangers and pilgrims" here. Where our "Treasure" (Christ) is, there will our hearts be also. That is why we are here bidden to "consider" Him.
"Who was faithful to Him that appointed Him, as also Moses was in all His house" (verse 2).
"To speak of Moses to the Jews was always a very difficult and delicate matter. It is hardly possible for Gentiles to understand or realize the veneration and affection with which the Jews regard Moses, the man of God. All their religious life, all their thoughts about God, all their practices and observances, all their hopes of the future, everything connected with God, is with them also connected with Moses. Moses was the great apostle unto them, the man sent unto them of God, the mediator of the old covenant" (Saphir). Admire then the perfect wisdom of the Holy Spirit so plainly evidenced in our passage. Before taking up Christ’s superiority over Moses, He points first to a resemblance between them, making mention of the "faithfulness" of God’s servant. Ere taking this up let us dwell on the first part of the verse.
"Who was faithful to Him that appointed Him." The chief qualification of an apostle or ambassador is, that he be Faithful. Faithfulness signifies two things: a trust committed, and a proper discharge of that trust. "Our Lord had a trust committed to Him... this trust He faithfully discharged. He sought not His own glory, but the glory of Him that sent Him; He ever declared His message to be not His own, but the Father’s; and He declared the whole will or word of God that was committed unto Him" (Dr. John Owen). Christ was ever faithful to the One who sent Him. This was His chief care from beginning to end. As a boy, "I must be about My Father’s business" (Luke 2:49). In the midst of His ministry, "I must work the works of Him that sent Me" (John 9:4). At the finish, "Not as I will, but as Thou wilt" (Matt. 26:39).
"As also Moses was faithful in all His house." "The key to the whole paragraph is to be found in the meaning of the figurative term ‘house,’ which so often occurs in it (just seven times, A.W.P.). By supposing that the word ‘house’ here is equivalent to edifice, the whole passage is involved in inextricable perplexity. ‘House’ here signifies a family or household. This mode of using the word is an exemplification of a common figure of speech, by which the name of what contains is given to what is contained. A man’s family usually resides in his house, and hence is called his house. This use of the word is common in the Bible: ‘The House of Israel,’ ‘the House of Aaron,’ ‘the House of David,’ are very common expressions for the children, the descendants, the families of Israel, Aaron and David. We have the same mode of speech in our own language, ‘the House of Stuart,’ ‘the House of Hanover.’ Keeping this remark in view, the verse we have now read will be found, short as it is, to contain in it the following statements:—Moses was appointed by God over the whole of His family: Moses was faithful in discharging the trust committed to him. Jesus is appointed by God over the whole of His family: Jesus is faithful in the discharge of the trust committed to Him" (Dr. J. Brown).
"The house, the building, means the children of God, who by faith, as lively stones, are built upon Christ Jesus the Foundation, and who are filled with the Holy Ghost; in whom God dwells, as in His temple, and in whom God is praised and manifested in glory. The illustration is very simple and instructive. We are compared unto stones, and as every simile is defective, we must add, not dead stones, but lively stones, as the apostle in his epistle to the Ephesians speaks of the building growing. The way in which we are brought unto the Lord Jesus Christ and united with Him is not by building, but by believing. The builders rejected the ‘chief corner-stone’ (Ps. 118:22); but ‘coming unto Christ’ (1 Pet. 2:4, 5), simply believing, ‘ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house.’ When we go about the works of the law we are trying to build, and as long as we build we are not built. When we give up working, then by faith the Holy Ghost adds us to Christ, and grafts up into the living Vine, who is also the Foundation. We are rooted and grounded. The house is one, and all the children of God are united in the Spirit" (Saphir).
That which the Spirit has here singled out for mention in connection with Moses, the typical "apostle," is that he was faithful in all God’s house, faithful in the discharge of his responsibilities concerning the earthly family over which Jehovah placed him. Although he failed personally in his faith, he was faithful as an "apostle." He never withheld a word which the Lord had given him, either from Pharaoh or from Israel. In erecting the tabernacle all things were made "according to" the pattern which he had received in the mount. When he came down from Sinai and beheld the people worshipping the golden calf, he did not spare, but called for the sword to smite them (Exo. 32:27, 28). In all things he conformed to the instructions which he had received from Jehovah (Exo. 40:16).
"For this Man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as He who hath builded the house hath more honor than the house" (verse 3). The apostle now proceeds to present Christ’s superiority over Moses. But ere considering this, let us admire again the heavenly wisdom granted him in the method of presenting his argument. In the previous verse he has acknowledged the greatness of Moses, and here he also allows that he was worthy of glory, or praise. This would at once show that Paul was no enemy of Judaism, seeking to disparage and revile it. Equally striking is it to note how, in now turning the eyes of the Hebrews to One who is infinitely greater than Moses, he does not speak of his failures—his slaying of the Egyptians (Exo. 2), his slowness in responding to the Lord’s call (Exo. 3,4), his angered smiting of the rock (Num. 20); but by presenting the glories of Christ.
This third verse presents to us the first of the evidences here furnished of the superiority of Christ over Moses: He is the Builder of God’s house; this, Moses never was. Its opening "For" looks back to the first verse, advancing a reason or argument why the Hebrews should "consider" the Apostle and High Priest of their confession, namely, because He is worthy of more glory than Moses the typical apostle. "The phrase, ‘to build the house,’ is equivalent to, be the founder of the family. This kind of phraseology is by no means uncommon. It is said, Exodus 1:21, that God ‘made houses’ to those humane women who refused to second the barbarous policy of Pharaoh in destroying the infants of the Israelites: i.e. He established their families, giving a numerous and flourishing offspring. In Ruth 4:11, Rachel and Leah are said to have built the house of Israel. And Nathan says to David, 2 Samuel 7:11: ‘Also the Lord telleth thee that He will make thee a house;’ and what the meaning of that phrase is, we learn from what immediately follows, Hebrews 5:12’ (Dr. J. Brown).
The contrast thus drawn between Christ and Moses is both a plain and an immense one. Though officially raised over it, Moses was not the founder of the Israelitish family, but simply a member of it. With the Apostle of our confession it is far otherwise. He is not only at the head of God’s family (Heb. 2:10, 13—His "sons," His "children"), but He is also the Builder or the Founder of it. As we read in Ephesians 2:10, "for we are His workmanship, created in (or "by") Christ Jesus." Moses did not make men children of God; Christ does. Moses came to a people who were already the Lord’s by covenant relationship; whereas Christ takes up those who are dead in trespasses and sins, and creates them anew. Thus as the founder of the family is entitled to the highest honor from the family, so Christ is worthy of more glory than Moses.
"For every house is builded by some man; but He that built all things is God" (verse 4). Here the Spirit brings in a yet higher glory of Christ. The connection is obvious. In the preceding verse it has been argued: the builder is entitled to more honor than the building: as then Christ is the Builder of a family, and Moses simply the member of one, He must be counted worthy "of more glory." In verse 4, proof of this is given, as the opening "for" denotes. The proof is twofold: Christ has not only built "the house," but "all things." Christ is not only the Mediator, "appointed" by God (verse 2), but He is God. To how much greater glory then is He justly entitled!
"For every house is builded by some one," should be understood in its widest signification, regarding "house" both literally and figuratively. Every human habitation has been built, every human family has been founded, by some man. So "He that built all things" is to be taken without qualification. The entire universe has been built ("framed," Hebrews 11:3) by Christ, for "all things were made by Him" (John 1:3), all things "that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible" (Col. 1:16). Therefore Christ made Moses, as the whole family of Israel. "He that built all things is God." The Holy Spirit here designedly uses the Divine title because the work attributed to Christ (building the family of God) is a Divine work: because it proves, without controversy, that Christ is greater than Moses; because it ratifies what was declared in the first chapter concerning the Mediator, that He is true God. Therefore should all "honor the Son even as they honor the Father" (John 5:23).
"And Moses verily was faithful in all His house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; but Christ as a Son over His own house" (verses 5, 6). These words bring before us the next proofs for the superiority of Christ over Moses: the typical apostle was but a servant, Christ is "Son;" the one was but a testimony unto the other. The position which Divine grace allotted to Moses was one of great honor, nevertheless he ministered before Jehovah only as a "servant." The words "in all His house" should be duly pondered: other servants were used in various parts of the family, but the glory of Moses was that he was used in every part of it; that is to say, he was entrusted with the care and regulation of the whole family of Israel. Still, even this, left him incomparably the inferior of the Lord Jesus, for He was a Son not "in all His house," but "over His own House."
"And Moses verily was faithful in all His house, as a servant." Here again the apostle would subdue the prejudices of the Jews against Christianity. He was not discrediting the greatness of Moses. So far from it, he repeats what he had said in verse 2, emphasizing it with the word "verily." Yet the faithfulness of Moses was as a "servant," a reminder to all, that this is the quality which should ever characterize all "servants." The word "as a servant" has the same force as in John 1:14, "we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father:" thus the "as" brings out the reality of the character in view. Moses faithfully conducted himself as a "servant," he did not act as a lord. This was evidenced by his great reverence for God (Exo. 3:6), his earnestly desiring an evidence of God’s favor (Exo. 34:9), his preferring the glory of the Lord to his own glory (Heb. 11:24-26, Exo. 32:10-12), and in his meekness before men. (Num. 12:3).
"For a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after." This was a word much needed by the Jews. So far from the revelation of Christianity clashing with the Pentateuch, much there was an anticipation of it. Moses ordered all things in the typical worship of the house so that they might be both a witness and pledge of that which should afterwards be more fully exhibited through the Gospel. Therefore did Christ say, "For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me: for he wrote of Me" (John 5:46). And on another occasion we are told, "And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:27).
"But Christ as a Son over His own house." Here is the final proof that Christ is "counted worthy of more glory than Moses." The proofs presented in this passage of our Lord’s immeasurable superiority are seven in number, and may be set forth thus: Moses was an apostle, Christ "the Apostle" (verse 1). Moses was a member of an "house:" Christ was the Builder of one (verse 3). Moses was connected with a single house, Christ "built all things," being the Creator of the universe (verse 4). Moses was a man; Christ, God (verse 4). Moses was but a "servant" (verse 5); Christ, the "Son." Moses was a "testimony" of things to be spoken after (verse 5), Christ supplied the substance and fulfillment of what Moses witnessed unto. Moses was but a servant in the house of Jehovah, Christ was Son over His own house (verse 6). The Puritan Owen quaintly wrote, "Here the apostle taketh leave of Moses; he treats not about him any more; and therefore he gives him, as it were, an honorable burial. He puts this glorious epitaph on his grave: "Moses, a faithful servant of the Lord in His whole house."
"But Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house are we" (verse 6). Here the "house" is plainly defined: it is a spiritual house, made up of believers in Christ. Not only are the "brethren" of verse 1, partakers of the heavenly calling, but they are members of the spiritual family of God, for in them He dwells. How well calculated to comfort and encourage the sorely-tried Hebrews were these words "whose house are we!" What compensation was this for the loss of their standing among the unbelieving Jews!
"If we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end" (verse 6). Do these words weaken the force of what has last been said? In nowise; they contained a much-needed warning. "There were great difficulties, circumstances calculated especially to effect the Jew, who, after receiving the truth with joy might be exposed to great trial, and so in danger of giving up his hope. It was, besides, particularly hard for a Jew at first to put these two facts together: a Messiah come, and entered into glory; and the people who belonged to the Messiah left in sorrow, and shame, and suffering here below" (W. Kelly).
The Hebrews were ever in danger of subordinating the future to the present, and of forsaking the invisible (Christ in heaven) for the visible (Judaism on earth), of giving up a profession which involved them in fierce persecution. Hence their need of being reminded that the proof of their belonging to the house of Christ was that they remained steadfast to Him to the end of their pilgrimage.
"If we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end." As the same thought is, substantially, embodied again in verse 14, we shall now waive a full exposition and application of these words. Suffice it now to say that the Holy Spirit is here pressing, once more, on these Hebrews, what had been affirmed in Hebrews 2:1, "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip." Let each Christian reader remember that our Lord has said, "If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed" (John 8:31).