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THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE HEBREWS - Chapter 10 - Verse 5

Verse 5. Wherefore. This word shows that the apostle means to sustain what he had said by a reference to the Old Testament itself. Nothing could be more opposite to the prevailing Jewish opinions about the efficacy of sacrifice than what he had just said. It was, therefore, of the highest importance to defend the position which he had laid down by authority which they would not presume to call in question, and he therefore makes his appeal to their own Scriptures.

When he cometh into the world. When the Messiah came, for the passage evidently referred to him. The Greek is, "Wherefore coming into the world, he saith." It has been made a question when this is to be understood as spoken—whether when he was born, or when he entered on the work of his ministry. Grotius understands it of the latter. But it is not material to a proper understanding of the passage to determine this. The simple idea is, that since it was impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin, Christ coming into the world made arrangements for a better sacrifice.

He saith. That is, this is the language denoted by his great undertaking; this is what his coming to make an atonement implies. We are not to suppose that Christ formally used these words on any occasion—for we have no record that he did—but this language is that which appropriately expresses the nature of his work. Perhaps also the apostle means to say, that it was originally employed in the Psalm from which it is quoted in reference to him, or was indited by him with reference to his future advent.

Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not. This is quoted from Ps 40:6,8. There has been much perplexity felt by expositors in reference to this quotation; and, after all which has been written, it is not entirely removed. The difficulty relates to these points.

(1.) To the question whether the Psalm originally had any reference to the Messiah. The Psalm appears to have pertained merely to David, and it would probably occur to no one on reading it to suppose that it referred to the Messiah, unless it had been so applied by the apostle in this place.

(2.) There are many parts of the Psalm, it has been said, which cannot, without a very forced interpretation, be applied to Christ. See Heb 10:2,12,14-16.

 

(3.) The argument of the apostle in the expression, "a body hast thou prepared me," seems to be based on a false translation of the principles he has done it.—It is not the design of these Notes to go rate an extended examination of questions of this nature. Such examination must be sought in more extended commentaries, and in treatises expressly relating to points of this kind. On the design of Ps 40, and its applicability to the Messiah, the reader may consult Prof. Stuart on the Hebrews, Excursus xx., and Kuinoel, in loc. After the most attentive examination which I can give of the Psalm, it seems to me probable that it is one of the Psalms which had an original and exclusive reference to the Messiah, and that the apostle has quoted it just as it was meant to be understood by the Holy Spirit, as applicable to him. The reasons for this opinion are briefly these.

(1.) There are such Psalms, as is admitted by all. The Messiah was the hope of the Jewish people; he was made the subject of their most sublime prophecies; and nothing was more natural than that he should be the subject of the songs of their sacred bards. By the spirit of inspiration they saw him in the distant future in the various circumstances in which he would be placed, and they dwelt with delight upon the vision. Comp. Intro. to Isaiah, & 7. iii.

(2.) The fact that it is here applied to the Messiah is a strong circumstance to demonstrate that it had an original applicability to him. This proof is of two kinds. First, that it is so applied by an inspired apostle, which with all who admit his inspiration seems decisive of the question. Second, the fact that he so applied it shows that this was an ancient and admitted interpretation. The apostle was writing to those who had been Jews, and whom he was desirous to convince of the truth of what he was alleging in regard to the nature of the Hebrew sacrifices. For this purpose it was necessary to appeal to the Scriptures of the Old Testament; but it cannot be supposed that he would adduce a passage for proof whose relevancy would not be admitted. The presumption is that the passage was in fact commonly applied as here.

(3.) The whole of the Psalm may be referred to the Messiah without anything forced or unnatural. The Psalm throughout seems to be made up of expressions used by a suffering person, who had indeed been delivered from some evils, but who was expecting many more. The principal difficulties in the way of such an interpretation, relate to the following points.

(a.) In Heb 10:2, the speaker in the Psalm says, "He brought me up out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock," and on the ground of this he gives thanks to God. But there is no real difficulty in supposing that this may refer to the Messiah. His enemies often potted against his life; laid snares for him, and endeavoured to destroy him; and it may be that he refers to some deliverance from such machinations. If it is objected to this that it is spoken of as having been uttered "when he came into the world," it may be replied, that that phrase does not necessarily refer to the time of his birth, but that he uttered this sentiment some time during the period of his incarnation. "He, coming into the world for the purpose of redemption, made use of this language." In a similar manner we would say of Lafayette, that "he, coming to the United States to aid in the cause of liberty, suffered a wound in battle." That is, during the period in which he was engaged in. this cause, he suffered in this manner.

(b.) The next objection or difficulty relates to the application of Heb 10:12 to the Messiah, "Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head; therefore my heart faileth me." To meet this, some have suggested that he refers to the sins of men which he took upon himself, and which he here speaks of as his own. But it is not true that the Lord Jesus so took upon himself the sins of others that they could be called his. They were not his, for he was in every sense" holy, harmless, and undefiled." The true solution of this difficulty probably is, that the word rendered iniquity

HEBREW

means, calamity, misfortune, trouble. See Ps 31:10; 1 Sa 28:10; 2 Ki 7:9; Ps 38:6; comp. Ps 49:6. The proper idea in the word is that of turning away, curving, making crooked; and it is thus applied to anything which is perverted or turned from the right way; as when one is turned from the path of rectitude: or commits sin; when one is turned from the way of prosperity or happiness, or is exposed to calamity. This seems to be the idea demanded by the scope of the Psalm, for it is not a penitential Psalm, in which the speaker is recounting his sins, but one in which he is enumerating his sorrows; praising God in the first part of the Psalm for some deliverance already experienced, and supplicating his interposition in view of calamities that he saw to be corning upon him. This interpretation also seems to be demanded in Ps 49:12 of the Psalm by the parallelism. In the former part of the verse, the word to which "iniquity" corresponds is not sin, but evil, i.e. calamity.

"For innumerable evils have compassed me about;

Mine iniquities [calamities] hard taken hold upon me."

 

If the word, therefore, be used here as it often is, and as the scope of the Psalm and the connexion seem to demand, there is no solid objection against applying this verse to the Messiah.

(c.) A third objection to this application of the Psalm to the Messiah is, that it cannot be supposed that he would utter such imprecations on his enemies as are found in Heb 10:14,15: "Let them be ashamed and confounded; let them be driven backward; let them be desolate." To this it may be replied, that such imprecations are as proper in the mouth of the Messiah as of David; but particularly, it may be said also, that they are improper in the mouth of neither.

Both David and the Messiah did, in fact, utter denunciations against the enemies of piety and of God. God does the same thing in his word and by his Providence. There is no evidence of any malignant feeling in this; nor is it inconsistent with the highest benevolence. The lawgiver who says that the murderer shall die, may have a heart full of benevolence; the judge who sentences him to death, may do it with eyes filled with tears. The objections, then, are not of such a nature that it is improper to regard this Psalm: as wholly applicable to the Messiah.

(4.) The Psalm cannot be applied with propriety to David, nor do we know of any one to whom it can be but to the Messiah. When was it true of David that he said that he "had come to do the will of God in view of the fact that God did not require sacrifice and offerings? In what "volume of a book" was it written of him before his birth, that he "delighted to do the will of God?" When was it true, that he had "preached righteousness in the great congregation?" These expressions are such as can be applied properly only to the Messiah, as Paul does here; and taking all these circumstances together, it will probably be regarded as the most proper interpretation to refer the whole Psalm at once to the Redeemer, and to suppose that Paul has used it in strict accordance with its original design. The other difficulties referred to will be considered in the exposition of the passage. The difference between sacrifice and offering is, that the former refers to bloody sacrifices; the latter, to any oblation made to God—as a thank-offering; an offering of flour, oil, etc. See Barnes "Isa 1:11".

When it is said, "Sacrifice and, offering thou wouldest not," the meaning is not that such oblations were in no sense acceptable to God—for as his appointment, and when offered with a sincere heart, they doubtless were; but that they were not as acceptable to him as obedience, and especially as the expression is used here, that they could not avail to secure the forgiveness of sins. They were not in their own nature such as was demanded to make an expiation for sin, and hence a body was prepared for the Messiah by which a more perfect sacrifice could be made. The sentiment here expressed occurs more than once in the Old Testament. Thus, 1 Sa 15:22, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." Hos 6:6, "For I desired mercy and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings." Comp. Ps 51:16,17, "For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt-offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit." This was an indisputable principle of the Old Testament, though it was much obscured and forgotten in the common estimation among the Jews. In accordance with this principle, the Messiah came to render obedience of the highest order, even to such all extent that he was willing to lay down his own life.

But a body hast thou prepared me. This is one of the passages which has caused a difficulty in understanding this quotation from the Psalm. The difficulty is, that it differs from the Hebrew, and that the apostle builds an argument upon it. It is not unusual indeed in the New Testament, to make use of the language of the Septuagint, even where it varies somewhat from the Hebrew; and where no argument is based on such a passage, there can be no difficulty in such a usage, since it is not uncommon to make use of the language of others to express our own thoughts. But the apostle does not appear to have made such a use of the passage here, but to have applied it in the way of argument. The argument, indeed, does not rest wholly, perhaps not principally, on the fact that a "body had been prepared" for the Messiah; but still this was evidently, in the view of the apostle, an important consideration, and this is the passage on which the proof of this is based. The Hebrew (Ps 40:6) is, "Mine ears hast thou opened;" or, as it is in the margin, "digged." The idea there is, that the ear had been, as it were, excavated, or dug out, so as to be made to hear distinctly; that is, certain truths had been clearly revealed to the speaker; or perhaps it may mean that he had been made "readily and attentively obedient" Stuart. Comp. Is 1:5, "The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious." In the Psalm, the proper connexion would seem to be, that the speaker had been made obedient, or had been so led that he was disposed to do the will of God. This may be expressed by the fact that the ear had been opened so as to be quick to hear, since an indisposition to obey is often expressed by the fact that the ears are stopped. There is manifestly no allusion here, as has been sometimes supposed, to the custom of boring through the ear of a servant with an awl, as a sign that he was willing to remain and serve his master, Ex 21:6; De 15:17. In that ease, the outer circle, or rim of the ear, was bored through with an awl; here the idea is that of hollowing out, digging, or excavating —a process to make the passage clear, not to pierce the outward ear. The Hebrew in the Psalm the Septuagint translates, "a body hast thou prepared me," and this rendering has been adopted by the apostle, various ways have been resorted to of explaining the fact that the translators of the Septuagint rendered it in this manner, none of which are entirely free from difficulty. Some critics, as Cappell, Ernesti, and others, have endeavoured to show that it is probable that the Septuagint reading in Ps 40:6, was— wtion kathrtisw moi "my ear thou hast prepared;" that is, for obedience. But of this there is no proof, and indeed it is evident that the apostle quoted it as if it were swma, body. See Heb 5:10. It is probably altogether impossible now to explain the reason why the translators of the Septuagint rendered the phrase as they did; and this remark may be extended to many other places of their version. It is to be admitted here, beyond all doubt, whatever consequences may follow,

(1.) that their version does not accord with the Hebrew;

(2.) that the apostle has quoted their version as it stood, without attempting to correct it;

(3.) that his use of the passage is designed, to some extent at least, as proof of what he was demonstrating. The leading idea, the important and essential point in the argument, is, indeed, not that a body was prepared, but that He came to do the will of God; but still it is clear that the apostle meant to lay some stress on the fact that a body had been prepared for the Redeemer. Sacrifice and offering, by the bodies of lambs and goats, were not what was required; but, instead of that, the Messiah came to do the will of God by offering a more perfect sacrifice, and in accomplishing that it was necessary that he should be endowed with a body. But on what principle the apostle has quoted a passage to prove this which differs from the Hebrew, I confess I cannot see, nor do any of the explanations offered commend themselves as satisfactory. The only circumstances which seem to furnish any relief to the difficulty are these two—

(1.) that the main point in the argument of the apostle was not that "a body had been prepared," but that the Messiah came to do the "will of God," and that the preparation of a body for that was rather an incidental circumstance; and

(2) that the translation by the Septuagint was not a material departure from the scope of the whole Hebrew passage. The main thought—that of doing the will of God in the place of offering sacrifice—was still retained; the opening of the ears, i.e., rendering the person attentive and disposed to obey, and the preparing of a body in order to obedience, were not circumstances so unlike as to make it necessary for the apostle to re-translate the whole passage in order to the main end which he had in view. Still, I admit that these considerations do not seem to me to be wholly satisfactory. Those who are disposed to examine the various opinions which have been entertained of this passage may find them in Kuinoel, in loc., Rosenmuller, Stuart on the Hebrews, Excursus xx., and Kennicott on Ps 40:7. Kennicott supposes that there has been a change in the Hebrew text, and that instead of the present reading

HEBREW

oznaim, ears, the reading was

HEBREW

oz, guph—then a body; and that these words became united by the error of transcribers, and by a slight change then became as the present copies of the Hebrew text stands. This conjecture is ingenious; and if it were ever allowable to follow a mere conjecture, I should be disposed to do it here. But there is no authority from mss. for any change, nor do any of the old versions justify it, or agree with this, except the Arabic.

{c} "Sacrifice" Ps 40:6-8 {2} "prepared" "thou hast fitted"

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