An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
Judaism Set Aside
As stated in the opening paragraphs of the preceding article, the apostle had now reached (in the second section of Hebrews 7) the most difficult and delicate part of his task, namely, to satisfy believing Jews that God had set aside the entire system which He had Himself instituted in the days of Moses. It is exceedingly difficult for us to form any adequate estimate of what that meant to them; in truth, it was the severest test to which the faith of God’s people has ever been put. To be assured that God had discarded as dead and useless the entire order of solemn worship which He had appointed in so glorious a manner and which He had accepted for so many generations, was indeed a sore trial of faith. To acquiesce in His sovereign pleasure in this momentous matter called for no ordinary measure of grace. To establish the truth thereof Paul was led of the Spirit to enter into such detail that every valid objection was fairly met and clearly refuted.
There are many today who quite fail to appreciate the reason why the apostle should here pursue his argument so laboriously and enter into so many minute details. That these should strike anyone as "dry", uninteresting and unprofitable, is because he is insensible of the vast importance of what the apostle had before him. Rightly did John Owen affirm that "he hath the greatest argument in hand that was ever controverted in the church of God, and upon the determination whereof the salvation or ruin of the church did depend. The worship he treated of was immediately instituted by God Himself, and had now continued near fifteen hundred years in the church. All that while it had been the certain rule of God’s acceptance of the people, or of His anger toward them; for whilst they complied with it, His blessing was continually upon them, and the neglect of it was still punished with severity".
The final exhortation which God had given to Israel through the last of His prophets was, "Remember ye the law of Moses My servant . . . lest I come and smite the earth with a curse" (Mal. 4:4-6). Those are the closing words of the Old Testament! So highly did the Jews esteem their great and singular privileges above all other nations, that they would rather die than part with them. So high ran their feelings against those who pressed upon them the claims of Christ that, the charge preferred against the first Christian martyr was, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God . . . This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against the holy place and the law" (Acts 6:11, 13): and though he remonstrated so faithfully, earnestly, and tenderly with them, they "gnashed on him with their teeth" and "stoned" him (Acts 7:54, 59). It was therefore most necessary that Paul should proceed cautiously, carefully and slowly, omitting nothing that was of any force in favor of the cause he was pleading.
The truth of God requires no vindication from us, nor are we called upon to attempt any justification for what may strike some as being unnecessarily tedious. Yet, in addition to intimating the needs be for Paul to enter so microscopically into the signification and application of the details of the Melchizedek type, we may profitably observe how that he has left an example which servants of God today need to take to heart. The course here followed by this beloved teacher supplies a most helpful illustration of what is meant by believers being "established in the present truth" (2 Pet. 1:12). All truth is eternal, and in itself is equally valuable and applicable to each age and generation. Yet portions of it are especially so from their timely pertinency to particular seasons, and that because of the opposition made against them. Thus Paul’s teaching here about the abolishing of the Mosaic ceremonies with the introduction of a new priesthood and new ordinances of worship was then the "present truth" in the knowledge and confirmation of which the people of God were vitally concerned. The same principle holds good continuously. Each portion of God’s truth may become of peculiar urgency by virtue of some special opposition thereto.
In His sovereign wisdom God is pleased to exercise and try the faith of His saints by various heresies which are fierce, persistent, and subtle oppositions to His Truth. None of the Devil’s agents, while posing as the champions of the Cause of Christ or as revealing new and fuller "light" from Heaven, reject all the Gospel or repudiate all the fundamentals of the faith. No, Satan is far too clever to show his hand so openly. Rather do his wolves, who aim at robbing God’s children of their inheritance, appear in sheep’s clothing, and pretend to great reverence for the Scriptures. Instead of repudiating the entire faith delivered to the saints, they insidiously direct their attack upon some single portion thereof; and thus a defense of what is directly opposed becomes the "present truth" for that day in which the saints need establishing, because of the Enemy’s attempt to overthrow them.
Though Satan hates all Truth, yet he is far too wary to send his satellites among the people of God and openly deny all that they hold dear. Nor can he gain any advantage over them while they are really walking with God, in humble, dependent, obedient submission to Him. No, he has to watch and wait until he discovers what professing Christians, because of their lust and prejudices, are most inclined to receive. As the spirit of worldliness increases among them, then he presses that which is most calculated to hide from their view the heavenly calling of God’s people and its inseparable consequence of walking down here as "strangers and pilgrims". As the spirit of egotism and pride is allowed a large place, then that which humbles and abases the flesh is withheld and a species of intellectualism which puffs up, is substituted.
It is indeed solemn and saddening to review the course which Christendom has followed during the last two or three generations in the light of the above principle. As the denying of self and the daily taking up of the cross declined, the heart was prepared for the Satanic delusion that because salvation is by grace alone, that therefore obedience to God, submission to His law, and the actual doing of His Word, are quite unnecessary; and thus Paul has been pitted against James, and the teaching of the latter ignored. That there is a Strait gate to be entered and a Narrow way to be traversed, before "life" is actually reached, is almost universally denied by those who pose as the servants of God; yet that only solemnly confirms our Lord’s words, "Few there be that find it" (Matthew 7:14).
Again; as the "professing Church" became more infected with the lawlessness abounding in the world, the teaching that the Sabbath is "Jewish" and that the Law of God has been totally abolished, became very acceptable to those intent on pleasing themselves. As the exalted standard of holiness which God has set before His people became lowered by those professing to speak in His name, the monstrous idea that repentance belongs only to the "Kingdom age" was readily espoused. As the masses of those who bore the name of Christ refused to take upon them His yoke and learn of Him who was "meek and lowly in heart", the horrible heresy that the searching precepts of the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5:7) are not addressed to Christians living today, was greedily devoured. Ah, it is just these things which are now being opposed that have become the "present truth", in which numbers of God’s people most need to be "established". It is at these very points that God is now causing the faith of His people to be tested, and the true servants of the Lord will seek grace, wisdom and courage, to emulate the example here left by Paul, and spare no pains to root and ground the saints in what is most needful for them. Such is the practical application we need to make of the principle exemplified by the apostle in Hebrews 7.
In the verses immediately preceding our present passage, the apostle had shown that the abolition of the Levitical order was inevitable. First, he pointed out that before Aaron had been called, God Himself had owned another priesthood which was far more excellent, namely, that of Melchizedek’s. Second, the introduction of that more excellent priesthood for a season, was designed to prefigure what was afterwards to be established, therefore another priesthood had to arise and be given unto the Church in answer to that ancient type. Third, the new priest after the order of Melchizedek could not consist side by side with that of Levi’s, for He belonged to another tribe, and His sacrifice was of another kind. Hence, inasmuch as the Aaronic priesthood could not take away sins nor make the worshipper perfect before God, and because Christ’s sacerdotal work effected these, therefore the former must give place to the latter. Still further reasons for the necessity of this the apostle continues to advance.
"For He testified, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (verse 17). This verse completes the sentence begun at verse 15, the design of the whole being to afford a demonstration of what had been said in verse 11. In verse 11 a deduction is drawn from the signification of the Melchizedek type. That type announced the rising of a Priest distinct from and superior to the order of Aaron. From that fact the apostle points out, first, that the Levitical order must be inadequate, imperfect, and therefore must give way before that which was more excellent; and second, that the revocation of the Aaronic order necessarily involved the setting aside of the whole dispensation or economy connected therewith.
Though the "logic" of his argument was perfect and could not be gainsaid, the apostle does not ask the Hebrews to rest their faith on mere reasoning, but proceeds to prove what he has said by an appeal to those Scriptures which they owned as the inspired and authoritative Word of God. He reminds them that not only had the Lord given them more than a hint in the historical narrative of Genesis, that One should arise and fulfill the priestly type recorded therein, but he points out that in one of the great Messianic Psalms Jehovah Himself addresses the Messiah as "A Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek". We cannot but marvel at the wondrous and perfect ways of our God. At the very time when the church of Israel was in the highest enjoyment of the Levitical priesthood, whose office depended wholly on their genealogy, the Holy Spirit deemed it well to inform them through David that a Priest was to come and be independent of any line of fleshly descent, namely, after the order of Melchizedek, who had none, Psalm 110:4.
Well may we reverently ponder and admire the sovereign wisdom of the Holy Spirit in bringing forth truth unto light according as the state of God’s people require. Here again we see exemplified that basic principle in all God’s dealings with men: "first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear" (Mark 4:28). First, He inserted in Genesis a very brief account of a person who was a type of Christ. Second, almost a thousand years afterwards, when, it may be all understanding of the Genesis type had been lost, and the people of God were fully satisfied in a priesthood of quite another nature, the Holy Spirit in one word of prophecy intimated that, what Moses had recorded of him to whom Abraham paid tithes, was a foreshadowing of another Priest who was afterwards to arise. Thus God not only gave Israel light upon an important piece of ancient history, but also signified to them that the priesthood which they then enjoyed was not always to continue, but would be superceded by one of another and better nature.
But notwithstanding the plain prophecy recorded in the 110th Psalm, it is evident that at the coming of the Savior and the fulfillment of both type and prophecy, the Jews had lost all knowledge and understanding of the mystery of Genesis 14 and the promises renewed through David. They thought it strange that there should be a Priest that had no genealogy, no solemn consecration at the hands of man, and no formal investiture with His office. Therefore does the apostle proceed so slowly and carefully in the opening of this mystery, prefacing the same not only by the assertion of how hard it was to understand it aright (Heb. 5:10), but also with a lengthy discourse (Heb. 5:11–6:20) to prepare their hearts for a diligent attention thereto. The difficulty before him was not only because the true understanding of Genesis 14 and Psalm 110 had been lost, but because the carnality of those to whom he wrote made them reluctant to admit that the raising up of Christ as Priest after the order of Melchizedek necessarily involved the termination of the Levitical priesthood and the whole system of worship connected therewith.
Difficult as it was for the Jew to be weaned from that system in which he had been brought up and to which he was so deeply attached, nevertheless, his very salvation turned thereon. Therefore we are not to wonder at the apostle’s insisting so much on the setting aside of Judaism, for that was the very hinge on which the eternal salvation or destruction of the whole Nation did turn. If they would not forego their old priesthood and worship, their ruin was unavoidable. Christ would either be received by them, or "profit them nothing" (Gal. 5:2). Thus it was that it fell out with the great majority of them! turning away from the Lord Jesus, they clung tenaciously to their ancient institutions and perished in their unbelief.
Nor should we lose sight of the analogy and parallel furnished by the Jews in connection with salvation today. While it be true that salvation is wholly of grace, and in nowise obtained by any efforts or works of the creature, nevertheless, it is equally true that none can obtain that salvation until there be a complete break from the world and their old manner of life in it. Conversion is a turning to God, and to turn to God there must be a turning from all that is opposed to Him. None are saved till they "come" to Christ, and the very term "coming to Christ" implies a leaving of what is contrary to Him. The Lord Jesus does not save men in their sins, but from their sins, and before He saves them from their sins, there must be a repenting of sin (Luke 13:3), and no man savingly repents of his sins while he lives in and loves them. The wicked have to forsake their "way" before God will "pardon" (Isa. 55:7). The sinner has to turn his back on the far country, yea, leave it behind him, before he can approach the Father and receive the "best robe" (Luke 15)!
Should any object to what has just been said, But that is to make man, in part, his own savior! We reply, Not at all. There is nothing whatever meritorious about repentance, any more than there is about faith. Neither of them are virtues entitling a sinner to salvation, yet they are required qualifications, in the same way that an empty-handed beggar is qualified for my charity or a sick person is fit to receive the attention of a physician. Scripture does not teach that a man must reform his life in order to win God’s approval, but it does affirm "he that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Prov. 28:13).
"For He testifieth, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." Note "He testifieth", not simply "He said". The words of the Holy Spirit through David are here appealed to by the apostle in support of what he had said. Brief as is that citation, it nevertheless substantiates all the principle points Paul had made: First, here was proof that there should be another priest not of the tribe of Levi, for Jehovah here affirms of Christ, who sprang from Judah. "Thou art a priest". Second, He was a priest "after the order of Melchizedek". Third, God Himself owned Him as such. Fourth, He was so "after the power of an endless life" (verse 16), for He is priest "forever".
Perhaps one more word needs to be added upon Christ’s being "a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek". The priesthood of Christ was, in the mind of God, the eternal idea and original exemplar. Accordingly, God called forth Melchizedek, and invested him with his office in such a manner that he might fitly foreshadow Christ. Hence he and his priesthood became an external adumbration of the priesthood of Christ, and therefore is He said to remain a priest "after" his "order", that is suitably unto the representation made thereof in him.
"For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before the weakness and unprofitableness thereof" (verse 18). In verse 12 the apostle had affirmed that the priesthood being changed, there was of necessity a change made of the law also. Having, in verses 15-17, proved the former, he now proceeds to confirm the unescapable inference from it, and this he does by showing that the Priesthood promised and now given, was in all things inconsistent with the Levitical. In verse 12 he had used the milder term "change"; now he insists that the old regime could not be altered and adjusted to the new order of things, but had been altogether "disannulled".
"For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before". The reference here is to the entire system of the Mosaic institutions. That system is here spoken of as "the commandment going before". It was of Divine appointment and authority, yet was it only designed "until the time of reformation" (Heb. 9:10). The "going before" signifies the introduction of the new Priest in fulfillment of the promise in Psalm 110. The commandment going before was that which regulated the worship of God and obedience to Him prior to the Christian dispensation; but this had now been cancelled and a new law of worship given.
It is indeed striking to note the warnings which God gave to Israel of the disannulling of the law. First, at the very beginning He gave a clear intimation that it had not a perpetuity annexed to it. Immediately after the giving of the law as a covenant to Israel, they broke the covenant by setting up the golden calf at Horeb; whereupon Moses breaks the tables of stone, whereon the law was given. Had God intended that that covenant should be perpetuated, He would not have suffered its first constitution to have been accompanied with an express emblem of its abolition. Second, Moses implicitly declared after the giving of the law that God would provoke Israel to jealousy by a foolish people (see Deuteronomy 33:21), which was by calling of the Gentiles (Rom. 10:19); whereupon the law of commandments contained in ordinances, was of necessity to be taken out of the way! Third, through Jeremiah (chapter 31, etc.) Jehovah made known that, following the revocation of the old, a "new covenant" should be established with the Church! In these and other ways was Israel forewarned that the time would come when the whole Mosaic law, as to its covenant efficacy, would be repealed, unto the unspeakable advantage of God’s people.
If it be asked how and when the commandment respecting Judaism was "disannulled", the answer is, First, virtually and really by Christ Himself. He had fulfilled and accomplished it in His own person, and by so doing took away its obligatory power. Second, formerly, by the new ordinances which Christ instituted. The Lord’s supper (Matthew 26:26-29) and Christian baptism (Matthew 28:19) were altogether inconsistent with the ordinances of the law, for these declared that was passed and done, which they directed unto as future and yet to come. Third, declaratively by the revealed will of God: in Acts 15 we learn how the Holy Spirit through the apostles (verse 28) expressly declared that the Gentile converts were not under obligation to heed the Mosaic law (verse 24). Fourth, providentially, in A.D. 70, when God caused Jerusalem and the temple to be destroyed.
"For the weakness and unprofitableness thereof". Here the apostle assigns the reason why God had annulled the Mosaic law. In verse 11 the apostle had asked, If "perfection were obtainable by the Levitical priesthood what need was there for another priesthood to arise? Here he plainly declares that the whole system was, relatively speaking, worthless. This raises a difficulty of no small dimension, namely, in assigning such imperfections to a system which had been given by God Himself. How can it be supposed that the good and holy Jehovah should prescribe such a law unto His people as was always weak and unprofitable?
Absolutely considered no reflection can be made upon the Mosaic law, for it was the product of Divine wisdom, holiness and truth. But with respect unto the people to whom it was given, and the end for which it was given, imperfection did attach to it. It was given to sinners who were defiled and guilty, and therefore was the law "weak through the flesh" (Rom. 8:3), its subject having no power to meet its high demands. Moreover, it was (in itself) incapable of meeting their deep needs; taking away their sins, bestowing life on them, conforming them to God’s holiness. Why, then, was it given? It was "added because of transgression, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made" (Gal. 3:19). It discovered the nature of sin, so that the conscience of man might be sensible thereof. It restrained sin by prohibitions and threatenings, so that it did not run out to an excess of riot. It represented, though obscurely, the ways and means by which sin could be expiated. Finally, it made known the imperative need for the coming of Christ to do for men what they could not do of and for themselves.
"For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God" (verse 19). There are three things for us to note in this verse. First, the apostle names a particular instance in which the law was "weak and unprofitable". Second, he specifies what had been introduced in the room of that which had been disannulled. Third, he mentions the design of the law was that it "made nothing perfect". "It did not make the church-state perfect, it did not make the worship of God perfect, it did not perfect the promises given to Abraham in their accomplishment, it did not make a perfect covenant between God and man; it had a shadow, an obscure representation, of all these things, but it made nothing perfect" (John Owen).
Above, we sought to answer to the question, Why should God have given His people a law which made nothing perfect? It may further be pointed out that in all things the sovereignty of God is to be submitted unto; and for humble souls there is beauty and blessedness in Divine sovereignty. When the Lord Jesus rejoiced in spirit and returned thanks because heavenly mysteries had been hid from the wise and prudent and revealed unto babes, He assigned no other reason than, "Even so Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight" (Luke 10:21). And until we recognize an excellency in all God’s dispensations, simply because they are His, who giveth no account of His matters, we shall never admire His ways.
Again, men have sinned, and apostatized from God, and therefore it was but just and equal that they should not be reinstated in their reparation at once. "As God left the generality of the world without the knowledge of what He intended, so He saw good to keep the Church in a state of expectancy, as to the condition of liberty and deliverance intended. He could have created the world in an hour or moment; but He chose to do so in the space of six days, that the glory of His works might be distinctly represented unto angels and men. And He could, immediately after the fall, have introduced the promised Seed, in whose advent the Church must of necessity enjoy all the perfection which it is capable of in this world. But to teach the Church the greatness of their sin and misery, and to work in them an acknowledgement of His unspeakable grace, God proceeded gradually in the very revelation of Him, and caused them to wait under earnest desires and expectations many ages for Christ’s coming" (John Owen).
Finally and primarily, God designed that the Lord Jesus should in all things have the pre-eminence. This was due Him because of the glory of His person and the transcendent excellency of His work. But if the law could have made anything perfect, it is evident that this could not have been. Christ is the center of all God’s counsels, the key to every problem. All things are being directed to His ultimate honor and praise. The system of Judaism, with its mysteries and shadows, served as a suitable background, from which might shine forth the more gloriously the full blaze of God’s perfections made manifest by His incarnate Son. "The darkness is past, and the true light now shineth" (1 John 2:8).
"But the bringing in of a better hope did". When a sufficient discovery had been made of the insufficiency of the law to make things "perfect", God introduced that which did. A parallel passage is found in Romans 8:3, 4. There too we read of the law being "weak", and, that, through the faultiness of those to whom it was addressed. There too we read of the law being followed by God’s sending something "better", namely, His own Son. There too we read of the "perfection" which Christ has brought in for His people. The same thing will come before us again, D.V., when we arrive at Hebrews 10:1-10.
"Hope" is used metonymically, that is to say, for the object itself, the thing hoped for. From the giving of the first promise in Genesis 3:15, renewed in Genesis 12:3 and Genesis 17:8, the coming of Christ unto this world was the great thing which believers longed for. Abraham rejoiced to see His day (John 8:56), as did the prophets search diligently concerning it (1 Pet. 1:11,12). Hence, we read of Simeon "waiting for the Consolation of Israel" (Luke 2:25) and of aged Anna speaking of the newly-born Savior to "all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38). In like manner, the "blessed hope" set before God’s saints throughout this dispensation is the "appearing of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13).
By the introduction of the "better hope" believers now "draw nigh unto God". The verb here is a sacerdotal term, denoting the approach of priests to God in His worship. By nature we were unable so to do, for we were "alienated from the life of God" (Eph. 4:18). Sin separated between us and the thrice Holy One. But now we who once were far off "are made nigh by the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2:13), in consequence whereof both believing Jews and Gentiles "have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (Eph. 2:18), for the whole election of grace have been made "a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 2:5). The right and privilege of believers drawing nigh unto God Himself and the throne of His grace, is further opened in Hebrews 10, particularly verses 19-22. Everything which kept us at a distance from God has been removed by the bringing in of the Better Hope.
In its complete realization and ultimate fulfillment, it is still the "better hope". Believers are yet here on earth; there is much within and without which mars and interrupts their communion with God. Their being "made perfect" in their state and experience (Heb. 11:40), and their being actually conducted into the Father’s presence (John 14:1-3) is yet future. But blessed be God, our sins have been put away, we already have "access by faith into this grace wherein we stand" (Rom. 5:2). The Forerunner has "for us entered" within the veil (Heb. 10:19, 20). Then, in the meantime, "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16). The Lord grant it for His name’s sake.