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THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE HEBREWS - Chapter 5 - Verse 7
Verse 7. Who. That is, the Lord Jesus—for so the connexion demands. The object of this verse and the two following is, to show that the Lord Jesus had that qualification for the office of priest to which he had referred Heb 5:2. It was one important qualification for that office, that he who sustained it should be able to show compassion, to aid those that were out of the way, and to sympathize with sufferers; in other words, they were themselves encompassed with infirmity, and thus were able to succour those who were subjected to trials. The apostle shows now that the Lord Jesus had those qualifications, as far as it was possible for one to have them who had no sin. In the days of his flesh he suffered intensely; he prayed with fervour; he placed himself in a situation where he learned subjection and obedience by his trials; and in all things he went far beyond what had been evinced by the priests under the ancient dispensation.
In the days of his flesh. When he appeared on earth as a man. Flesh is used to denote human nature, and especially human nature as susceptible of suffering. The Son of God still is united to human nature, but it is human nature glorified; for in his case, as in all others, "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God," 1 Co 15:50. He has now a glorified body, Php 3:21, such as the redeemed will have in the future world. Comp, Re 1:13-17. The phrase "days of his flesh," means the time when he was incarnate, or when he lived on earth in human form. The particular time here referred to, evidently, was the agony in the garden of Gethsemane.
Prayers and supplications. These words are often used to denote the same thing. If there is a difference, the former—dehseiv—means, petitions which arise from a sense of need,—from deomai— want, to need; the latter refers usually to supplication for protection, and is applicable to one who, under a sense of guilt, flees to an altar with the symbols of supplication in his hand. Suppliants in such cases often carried an olive-branch as an emblem of the peace which they sought.
A fact is mentioned by Livy respecting the Locrians that may illustrate this passage. "Ten delegates from the Locrians, squalid and covered with rags, came into the hall where the consuls were sitting, extending the badges of suppliants—olive branches—according to the custom of the Greeks; and prostrated themselves on the ground before the tribunal, with a lamentable cry," Lib xxix. c. 16. The particular idea in the word here used ikethria is, petition for protection, help, or shelter, (Passow;) and this idea accords well with the design of the passage. The Lord Jesus prayed as one who had need, and as one who desired protection, shelter, or help. The words here, therefore, do not mean the same thing, and are not merely intensive, but they refer to distinct purposes which the Redeemer had in his prayers. He was about to die, and, as a man, he needed the Divine help; he was, probably, tempted in that dark hour, See Barnes "Joh 12:30, and he fled to God for protection.
With strong crying. This word does not mean weeping, as the word "crying" does familiarly with us. It rather means an outcry, the voice of wailing and lamentation. It is the cry for help of one who is deeply distressed, or in danger; and refers here to the earnest petition of the Saviour when in the agony of Gethsemane, or when on the cross. It is the intensity of the voice which is referred to, when it is raised by an agony of suffering. Comp. Lu 22:44: "He prayed more earnestly." Mt 27:46: "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice—My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" See also Mt 26:38,39; 27:60.
And tears. Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus, Joh 11:35, and over Jerusalem, Lu 19:41. It is not expressly stated by the Evangelists that he wept in the garden of Gethsemane, but there is no reason to doubt that he did. In such an intense agony as to cause a bloody sweat, there is every probability that it would be accompanied with tears. We may remark then,
(1.) that there is nothing dishonourable in tears, and that man should not be ashamed, on proper occasions, to weep. The fact that the Son of God wept is a full demonstration that it is not disgraceful to weep. God has so made us as to express sympathy for others by tears. Religion does not make the heart insensible and hard, as stoical philosophy does; it makes it tender and susceptible to impression.
(2.) It is not improper to weep. The Son of God wept—and if he poured forth tears it cannot be wrong for us. Besides, it is a great law of our nature, that in suffering we should find relief by tears. God would not have so made us if it had been wrong.
(3.) The fact that the Son of God thus wept should be allowed deeply to affect our hearts.
"He wept that we might weep;"
Each sin demands a tear."
He wept that he might redeem us; we should weep that our sins were so great as to demand such bitter woes for our salvation. That we had sinned; that our sins caused him such anguish; that he endured for us this bitter conflict, should make us weep. Tear should answer to tear, and sigh respond to sigh, and groan to groan, when we contemplate the sorrows of the Son of God in accomplishing our redemption. That man must have a hard heart who has never had an emotion when he has reflected that the Son of God wept, and bled, and died for him.
Unto him that was able. To God. He alone was able then to save. In such a conflict man could not aid; and the help of angels, ready as they were to assist him, could not sustain him. We may derive aid from man in trial; we may be comforted by sympathy and counsel; but there are sorrows where God only can uphold the sufferer. That God was able to uphold him, in his severe conflict, the Redeemer could not doubt; nor need we doubt it, in reference to ourselves, when deep sorrows come over our souls.
To save him from death. It would seem from this, that what constituted the agony of the Redeemer was the dread of death, and that he prayed that he might be saved from that. This might be, so far as the language is concerned, either the dread of death on the spot by the intensity of his sufferings and by the power of the tempter, or it might be the dread of the approaching death on the cross. As the Redeemer, however, knew that he was to die on the cross, it can hardly be supposed that he apprehended death in the garden of Gethsemane. What he prayed for was, that, if it were possible, he might be spared from a death so painful as he apprehended, Mt 26:39. Feeling that God had power to save him from that mode of dying, the burden of his petition was, that, if human redemption could be accomplished without such sufferings, it might please his Father to remove that cup from him.
And was heard. In Joh 11:42, the Saviour says, "I know that thou hearest me always." In the garden of Gethsemane he was heard. His prayer was not disregarded, though it was not literally answered. The cup of death was not taken away; but his prayer was not disregarded. What answer was given—what assurance or support was imparted to his soul—we are not informed. The case, however, shows us,
(1.) that prayer may be heard even when the sufferings which are dreaded, and from which we prayed to be delivered, may come upon us. They may come with such assurances of Divine favour, and such supports, as will be full proof that the prayer was not disregarded.
(2.) That prayer offered in faith may not be always literally answered. No one can doubt that Jesus offered the prayer of faith; and it is as little to be doubted, if he referred in the prayer to the death on the cross, that it was not literally answered. Comp, Mt 26:39. In like manner it may occur now, that prayer shall be offered with every right feeling, and with an earnest desire for the object, which may not be literally answered. Christians, even in the highest exercise of faith, are not inspired to know what is best for them; and, as long as this is the case, it is possible that they may ask for things which it would not be best to have granted. They who maintain that the prayer of faith is always literally answered, must hold that the Christian is under such a guidance of the Spirit of God that he cannot ask anything amiss. See Barnes "2 Co 12:9".
In that he feared. Marg. For his piety. Coverdale, "Because he had God in honour." Tindal, "Because he had God in reverence." Prof. Stuart renders it, "And was delivered from that which he feared." So also Doddridge. Whitby, "Was delivered from his fear." Luther renders it, "And was heard for that he had God in reverence"—dass er Gott in Ehren hatte. Beza renders it, "His prayers being heard, he was delivered from fear." From this variety in translating the passage, it will be seen at once that it is attended with difficulty. The Greek is, literally, "from fear or reverence" —apo thv eulabeiav. The word occurs in the New Testament only in one other place, Heb 12:28, where it is rendered "fear." "Let us serve him with reverence and godly fear." The word properly means, caution, circumspection; then timidity, fear; then the fear of God, reverence, piety. Where the most distinguished scholars have differed as to the meaning of a Greek phrase, it would be presumption in me to attempt to determine its sense. The most natural and obvious interpretation, however, as it seems to me, is, that it means that he was heard on account of his reverence for God; his profound veneration; his submission. Such was his piety that the prayer was heard, though it was not literally answered. A prayer may be heard, and yet not literally answered; it may be acceptable to God, though it may not consist with his arrangements to bestow the very blessing that is sought. The posture of the mind of the Redeemer, perhaps, was something like this. He knew that he was about to be put to death in a most cruel manner. His tender and sensitive nature, as a man, shrank from such a death. As a man he went, under the pressure of his great sorrows, and pleaded that the cup might be removed, and that man might be redeemed by a less fearful scene of suffering. That arrangement, however, could not be made. Yet the spirit which he evinced; the desire to do the will of God; the resignation, and the confidence in his Father which he evinced, were such as were acceptable in his sight. They showed that he had unconquerable virtue; that no power of temptation, and no prospect of the intensest woes which human nature could endure, could alienate him from piety, To show this was an object of inestimable value, and, much as it cost the Saviour, was worth it all. So now it is worth much to see what Christian piety can endure; What strong temptations it can resist; and what strength it has to bear up under accumulated woes: and even though the prayer of the pious sufferer is not directly answered, yet that prayer is acceptable to God, and the result of such a trial is worth all that it costs.
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