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IN this chapter the subject of the priestly office of Christ is continued, and further illustrated. It had been introduced, Heb 2:17,18; 3:1; 4:14-16.

The Jews regarded the office of high priest as an essential feature in the true religion; and it became, therefore, of the highest importance to show that in the Christian system there was a High Priest every way equal to that of the Jews. In his rank; in his character; and in the sacrifice which he offered, he was more than equal to the Jewish high priest; and they who had forsaken Judaism, and embraced Christianity, had lost nothing in this respect by the change, and had gained much. It became necessary, therefore, in making out this point, to institute a comparison between the Jewish high priest, and the great Author of the Christian religion: and this comparison is pursued in this and the following chapters. The comparison in this chapter turns mainly on the qualifications for the office, and the question whether the Lord Jesus had those qualifications. The chapter embraces the following points.

I. The qualifications of a Jewish high priest, Heb 5:1-4. They are these.

(1.) He must have been ordained or appointed by God, for the purpose of offering gifts and sacrifices for sins, Heb 5:1.

(2.) He must be tender and compassionate in his feelings, so that he can sympathize with those for whom he ministers, Heb 5:2.

(3.) He must have an offering to bring to God, and be able to present a sacrifice alike for himself and for the people, Heb 5:3.

(4.) He could not take this honour on himself, but must have evidence that he was called of God, as was Aaron, Heb 5:4.

II. An inquiry whether these qualifications were found in the Lord Jesus, the great High Priest of the Christian dispensation, Heb 5:5-10. In considering this, the apostle specifies the following qualifications in him, corresponding to those which he had said were required by the Jewish high priest.

(1.) He did not take this honour on himself, but was called directly by God, and after an order superior to the Aaronic priesthood —the order of Melchisedek, Heb 5:5,6,9,10.


(2.) He was kind, tender, and compassionate, and showed that he was able to sympathize with those for whom he had undertaken the office. When on the earth, he had evinced all the tenderness which could be desired in one who had come to pity and save mankind, he had a tender, sensitive, human nature. He felt deeply as a man, under the pressure of the great sufferings which he endured, and thus showed that he was abundantly qualified to sympathize with his people, Heb 5:7,8.

III. In verse 10 the apostle had introduced, incidentally, a topic of great difficulty; and he adds, Heb 5:11-14, that he had much to say on that subject, but that those whom he addressed were not qualified then to understand it. They ought to have been so far advanced in knowledge as to have been able to embrace the more abstruse and difficult points connected with the doctrines of Christianity. But they needed, he says, instruction even yet in the more simple elements of religion, and he feared that what he had to say of Melchisedek would be far above their comprehension. This point, therefore, he drops for the present, and in Heb 6 states again, and at greater length, the danger of apostasy, and the importance of perseverance in endeavouring to comprehend the sublime mysteries of the Christian religion; and then Heb 7 he resumes the subject of the comparison between Christ and Melchisedek.

Verse 1. For every high priest. That is, among the Jews, for the remarks relate to the Jewish system. The Jews had one high priest who was regarded as the successor of Aaron. The word "high priest" means chief priest; that is, a priest of higher rank and office than others. By the original regulation the Jewish high priest was to be of the family of Aaron, (Ex 29:9,) though in later times the office was frequently conferred on others. In the time of the Romans it had become venal, and the Mosaic regulation was disregarded, 2 Mac. 4:7; Jos. Ant. xv. 3, 1. It was no longer held for life, so that there were several persons at one time to whom was given the title of high priest. The high priest was at the head of religious affairs, and was the ordinary judge of all that pertained to religion, and even of the general justice of the Hebrew commonwealth, De 17:8-12; 19:17; De 21:5; 23:9,10.

He only had the privilege of entering the most holy place once a year, on the great day of atonement, to make expiation for the sins of the people, Le 16. He was to be the son of one who had married a virgin, and was to be free from any corporeal defect, Le 21:13. The dress of the high priest was much more costly and magnificent than that of the inferior order of priests, Ex 39:1-9. He wore a mantle or robe—meil


of blue, with the borders embroidered with pomegranates in purple and scarlet; an ephod


—made of cotton, with crimson, purple, and blue, and ornamented with gold, worn over the robe or mantle, without sleeves, and divided below the arm-pits into two parts or halves, of which one was in front, covering the breast, and the other behind, covering the back. In the ephod was a breastplate of curious workmanship, and on the head a mitre. The breastplate was a piece of broidered work about ten inches square, and was made double, so as to answer the purpose of a pouch or bag. It was adorned with twelve precious stones, each one having the name of one of the tribes of Israel. The two upper corners of the breastplate were fastened to the ephod, and the two lower to the girdle. The cut is supposed to give an illustration of this part of the dress of the high priest. It is copied from Taylor's Fragments, appended to Calmet. As there is frequent reference to the high priest of the Jews in this epistle, and as he performed so important an office among the Hebrews, it may be useful to have a view of the appearance of this officer in fall dress. The following cuts will illustrate this.

The first represents him with the robe and the ephod. On each shoulder is seen an onyx stone, Upon each of which were engraved the names of six of the tribes of the children of Israel. The breastplate is also seen with a wrought chain of gold fastened to each corner, and passing under the arms and over each shoulder. The dress is described at length in Ex 28. The second cut, exhibits the dress of the high priest on the day of expiation, and is very plain and simple, consisting only of plain linen, with a sash and girdle, Le 16:4,23.

Taken from among men. There may be an allusion here to the fact, that the great High Priest of the Christian dispensation had a higher than human origin, and was selected from a rank far above men. Or it may be that the meaning is, that every high priest on earth—including, all under the old dispensation and the great High Priest of the new—is ordained with reference to the welfare of men, and to bring some valuable offering for man to God.

Is ordained for men. Is set apart or consecrated for the welfare of men. The Jewish high priest was set apart to his office with great solemnity. See Ex 29.

In things pertaining to God. In religious matters, or with reference to the worship and service of God. He was not to be a civil ruler, nor a teacher of science, nor a military leader, but his business was to superintend the affairs of religion.

That he may offer both gifts. That is, thank-offerings, or oblations, which would be the expressions of gratitude. Many such offerings were made by the Jews under the laws of Moses, and the high priest was the medium by whom they were to be presented to God.

And sacrifices for sins. Bloody offerings; offerings made of slain beasts. The blood of expiation was sprinkled by him on the mercy-seat, and he was the appointed medium by which such sacrifices were to be presented to God. See Barnes "Heb 4:6, seq. We may remark here,

(1.) that the proper office of a priest is to present a sacrifice for sin.

(2.) It is improper to give the name priest to a minister of the gospel. The reason is, that he offers no sacrifice; he sprinkles no blood. He is appointed to "preach the word," and to lead the devotions of the church, but not to offer sacrifice. Accordingly, the New Testament preserves entire consistency on this point, for the name priest is never once given to the apostles, or to any other minister of the gospel. Among the Papists there is consistency—though gross and dangerous error—in the use of the word priest. They believe that the minister of religion offers up "the real body and blood of our Lord;" that the bread and wine are changed by the words of consecration into the "body and blood, the soul and divinity, of the Lord Jesus," (Decrees of the Council of Trent;) and that this is really offered by him as a sacrifice. Accordingly, they "elevate the host;" that is, lift up or offer the sacrifice, and require all to bow before it and worship; and with this view they are consistent in retaining the word priest. But why should this name be applied to a Protestant minister, who believes that all this is blasphemy, and who claims to have no sacrifice to offer when he comes to minister before God? The great sacrifice —the one sufficient atonement—has been offered; and the ministers of the gospel are appointed to proclaim that truth to men, not to offer sacrifices for sin.

{a} "among men" Heb 8:3 {*} "ordained" "appointed" {+} "pertaining" "related"

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