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18 You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. 20(For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” 21Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) 22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! 26At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” 27This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; 29for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

 


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18. For ye are not come, etc. He fights now with a new argument, for he proclaims the greatness of the grace made known by the Gospel, that we may reverently receive it; and secondly, he commends to us its benign characters that he might allure us to love and desire it. He adds weight to these two things by a comparison between the Law and the Gospel; for the higher the excellency of Christ’s kingdom than the dispensation of Moses, and the more glorious our calling than that of the ancient people, the more disgraceful and the less excusable is our ingratitude, unless we embrace in a becoming manner the great favor offered to us, and humbly adore the majesty of Christ which is here made evident; and then, as God does not present himself to us clothed in terrors as he did formerly to the Jews, but lovingly and kindly invites us to himself, so the sin of ingratitude will be thus doubled, except we willingly and in earnest respond to his gracious invitation. 260260     The connection of this part has been viewed by some to be the following: — Having exhorted the Hebrews to peace and holiness, and warned them against apostasy and sinful indulgences, the Apostle now enforces his exhortations and warnings by showing the superiority of the Gospel over the Law. This is the view of Doddridge and Stuart. It appears that Scott connected this part with chapter 10:28-31, and that he considered that the object of the apostle was to bring forward an instance, in addition to former ones, of the superiority of the Gospel, in order to show that the neglect of it would involve a greater guilt than that of the Law. And this appears to have been the view of Calvin, which seems to be favored by the concluding part of the chapter. The word γὰρ may be rendered “moreover.” — Ed

Then let us first remember that the Gospel is here compared with the Law; and secondly, that there are two parts in this comparison, — that God’s glory displays itself more illustriously in the Gospel than in the Law, — and that his invitation is now full of love, but that formerly there was nothing but the greatest terrors.

Unto the mount that might be touched, 261261     It has been conjectured that μὴ has been omitted before “touched;” for in that case the passage would more exactly correspond with the account given in Exodus, for the people were expressly forbidden to touch the mountain. An omission of this kind was surely not impossible. The phrase as it is hardly admits of a grammatical construction: it has been found necessary to give the sense of an adjective to the participle. There would not be this necessity were the words rendered “To a mount not to be touched and burning with fire, and to,” etc. — Ed etc. This sentence is variously expounded; but it seems to me that an earthly mountain is set in opposition to the spiritual; and the words which follow show the same thing, that burned with fire, blackness, darkness, tempest, etc.; for these were signs which God manifested, that he might secure authority and reverence to his Law. 262262     The words used here are not taken literally from the Hebrew nor from the Sept. the four things mentioned in this verse, and the two things mentioned in the following verse, are found in the narrative in Exodus 19 and 20; but not consecutively as here; nor are the same terms used. “Blackness” γνόφῳ, should be “a dark or thick cloud,” Exodus 19:16. “Tempest,” θυέλλη, is not mentioned in Exodus or in Deuteronomy; but it includes evidently “the thunders and lightnings” mentioned twice at least in Exodus, [Ex 19:16,20:18] though not once in Deuteronomy. — Ed When considered in themselves they were magnificent and truly celestial; but when we come to the kingdom of Christ, the things which God exhibits to us are far above all the heavens. It hence follows, that all the dignity of the Law appears now earthly: thus mount Sinai might have been touched by hands; but mount Sion cannot be known but by the spirit. All the things recorded in the nineteenth chapter of Exodus were visible things; but those which we have in the kingdom of Christ are hid from the senses of the flesh. 263263     “The Hebrews,” says Grotius, “came in the body to a material mountain, but we in spirit to that which is spiritual.”

Should any one object and say, that the meaning of all these things was spiritual, and that there are at this day external exercises of religion by which we are carried up to heaven: to this I answer, that the Apostle speaks comparatively; and no one can doubt but that the Gospel, contrasted with the Law, excels in what is spiritual, but the Law in earthly symbols.

19. They that heard entreated, etc. This is the second clause, in which he shows that the Law was very different from the Gospel; for when it was promulgated there was nothing but terrors on every side. For everything we read of in the nineteenth chapter of Exodus was of this kind, and intended to show to the people that God had ascended his tribunal and manifested himself as a strict judge. If by chance an innocent beast approached, he commanded it to be killed: how much heavier punishment awaited sinners who were conscious of their guilt, nay, who knew themselves to be condemned to eternal death by the Law? But the Gospel contains nothing but love, provided it be received by faith. What remains to be said you may read in the third chapter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians.

But by the words the people entreated, etc., is not to be understood that they refused to hear God, but that they prayed not to be constrained to hear God himself speaking; for by the interposition of Moses their dread was somewhat mitigated. 264264     The words at the end of verse 20, “or thrust through with a dart,” are not deemed genuine, being not found in the best MSS., and none of any authority containing them. — Ed. Yet interpreters are at a loss to know how it is that the Apostle ascribes these words to Moses, I exceedingly fear and quake; for we read nowhere that they were expressed by Moses. But the difficulty may be easily removed, if we consider that Moses spoke thus in the name of the people, whose requests as their delegate he brought to God. It was, then, the common complaint of the whole people; but Moses is included, who was, as it were, the speaker for them all. 265265     It is supposed by some that the reference here is to what is found in Exodus 19:16, 17. It is said in the former verse that all the people in the camp trembled; and it is concluded that Moses was at the time with them, for it is said in the next verse that he brought them forth out of the camp. But the passage that seems most evidently to intimate what is here said in the 19th verse, where we are told, that when the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder. “Moses spake” and that “God answered him by a voice.” Now we are not told what he said, nor what the answer was which God gave. It is however, natural to conclude, that under the circumstances mentioned, Moses expressed his fears, and that God removed them. —Ed.

22. Unto mount Sion, etc. He alludes to those prophecies in which God had formerly promised that his Gospel should thence go forth, as in Isaiah 2:1-4, and in other places. Then he contrasts mount Sion with mount Sinai; and he further adds, the heavenly Jerusalem, and he expressly calls it heavenly, that the Jews might not cleave to that which was earthly, and which had flourished under the Law; for when they sought perversely to continue under the slavish yoke of the Law, mount Sion was turned into mount Sinai as Paul teaches us in the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians. Then by the heavenly Jerusalem he understood that which was to be built throughout the whole world, even as the angel, mentioned by Zechariah, extended his line from the east even to the west.

To an innumerable company of angels, etc. He means that we are associated with angels, chosen into the ranks of patriarchs, and placed in heaven among all the spirits of the blessed, when Christ by the Gospel calls us to himself. But it is an incalculable honor, conferred upon us by our heavenly Father, that he should enroll us among angels and the holy fathers. The expression, myriads of angels, in taken from the book of Daniel, though I have followed Erasmus, and rendered it innumerable company of angels. 266266     Calvin follows the Vulg. And connects πανηγύρει with “angels.” It means a whole or a general assembly, and occurs in the Sept., and stands for מועד often rendered a solemn assembly: it was a solemnity observed by the whole people. Both as to sense construction, it is better to adopt the arrangement of our version. — Ed

23. The firstborn, etc. He does not call the children of God indiscriminately the firstborn, for the Scripture calls many his children who are not of this number; but for the sake of honor he adorns with this distinction the patriarchs and other renowned saints of the ancient Church. He adds, which are written in heaven, because God is said to have all the elect enrolled in his book or secret catalogue, as Ezekiel speaks. 267267     To keep this clause distinct from the next but one, “the spirits of just men,” etc. has been difficult. The distinction which Calvin seems to make as well as Doddridge, Scott and Stuart, is this, — that those mentioned here, “the first-born,” were the most eminent of the ancients; but that “the spirits of just men” include the godly generally. The people of Israel were called “the first born,” Exodus 4:22, because they were God’s chosen people. Ephraim is also called, “the first born,” Jeremiah 31:9, because of the superiority granted to that tribe; and the Messiah is so called, Psalm 89:27, on account of his eminence. The first born is one possessed of peculiar privileges. The word here seems to designate the saints, believers, Christians, as they are God’s chosen people and highly privileged. We hence see the propriety of “the whole assembly,” or the whole number of the faithful, composed of Jews or Gentiles. The Apostle says, “We are part of this whole assembly,” and in order to point out his meaning more distinctly he calls it “the Church.” The reference here seems to be the saints on earth, and at the end of the verse to departed saints. And they are said to be “made perfect,” because freed from guilt, sin, and every pollution, having “washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.” — Ed.

The judge of all, etc. This seems to have been said to inspire fear, as though he had said, that grace is in such a way altered to us, that we ought still to consider that we have to do with a judge, to whom an account must be given if we presumptuously intrude into his sanctuary polluted and profane.

The spirits of just men, etc. He adds this to intimate that we are joined to holy souls, which have put off their bodies, and left behind them all the filth of this world; and hence he says that they are consecrated or “made perfect”, for they are no more subject to the infirmities of the flesh, having laid aside the flesh itself. And hence we may with certainty conclude, that pious souls, separated from their bodies, still live with God, for we could not possibly be otherwise joined to them as companions.

24. And to Jesus the Mediator, etc. He adds this in the last place, because it is he alone through whom the Father is reconciled to us, and who renders his face serene and lovely to us, so that we may come to him without fear. At the same time he shows how Christ becomes our Mediator, even through his own blood, which after the Hebrew mode of speaking he calls the blood of sprinkling, which means sprinkled blood; for as it was once for all shed to make an atonement for us, so our souls must be now cleansed by it through faith. At the same time the Apostle alludes to the ancient rite of the Law, which has been before mentioned.

That speaketh better things, etc. There is no reason why better may not be rendered adverbially in the following manner, — “Christ’s blood cries more efficaciously, and is better heard by God than the blood of Abel.” It is, however, preferable to take the words literally: the blood of Christ is said to speak better things, because it avails to obtain pardon for our sins. The blood of Abel did not properly cry out; for it was his murder that called for vengeance before God. But the blood of Christ cries out, and the atonement made by it is heard daily. 268268     See Appendix X 2.

25. See that ye refuse not him that speaketh, etc. He uses the same verb as before, when he said that the people entreated that God should not speak to them; but he means as I think, another thing, even that we ought not to reject the word destined for us. He further shows what he had in view in the last comparison, even that the severest punishment awaits the despisers of the Gospel, since the ancients under the Law did not despise it with impunity. And he pursues the argument from the less to the greater, when he says, that God or Moses spoke then on earth, but that the same God or Christ speaks now from heaven. At the same time I prefer regarding God in both instances as the speaker. And he is said to have spoken on earth, because he spoke in a lower strain. Let us ever bear in mind that he refers to the external ministration of the Law, which, as compared with the gospel, partook of what was earthly, and did not lead men’s minds above the heavens unto perfect wisdom; for though the Law contained in it the same truth, yet as it was only a training school, perfection could not belong to it. 269269     By “him that speaketh,” is by some understood Christ, but more properly God, as his is the leading subject in the foregoing and the following verses. The words which follow are brief; and the first clause is explained more fully in chapter 10:28, and the second in chapter 1:2. God spake “on earth” by Moses, but “from heaven” by his son, who came from heaven, ascended into heaven and sent his spirit down from heaven. The comparison here is between speaking on earth and speaking from heaven; but included in this, as previously explained in the Epistle, are the agents employed. God in delivering the Law fixed on a place on earth, and then as it were descended and employed an earthly agent, a mere man as his mediator; but in delivering the gospel, he did not descend from heaven, but employed a heavenly agent, his own son; thus manifested the superiority of the Gospel over the law. And that God is meant throughout this verse is evident from the following verse, “Whose voice,” etc. The passage may be thus rendered, —
   “See that ye reject not him who speaketh; for if they escaped not who rejected him when speaking on earth, how much more shall not we, if we turn away from him when speaking from heaven?”

   We have no single word to express χρηματίζοντα — oraculizing, rendered by Doddridge, “giving forth oracles;” by Macknight, “delivering an oracle;” and by Stuart, “warning.” But the best word we can adopt here is “speaking.” — Ed

26. Whose voice then shook the earth, etc. Though God shook the earth when he published his Law, yet he shows that he now speaks more gloriously, for he shakes both earth and heaven. He quotes on the subject the testimony of the Prophet Haggai, though he gives not the words literally; but as the Prophet foretells a future shaking of the earth and the heaven, the Apostle borrows the idea in order to teach us that the voice of the Gospel not only thunders through the earth, but also penetrates above the heavens. But that the Prophet speaks of Christ’s kingdom, is beyond any dispute, for it immediately follows in the same passage, “I will shake all nations; and come shall the desire of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory.” It is however certain that neither all nations have been gathered into one body, except under the banner of Christ, nor has there been any desire in which we ought to acquiesce but Christ alone, nor was the temple of Solomon exceeded in glory until the magnificence of Christ became known through the whole world. The Prophet then no doubt refers to the time of Christ. But if at the commencement of Christ’s kingdom, not only the lower parts of the world were shaken, but his power also reached the heaven, the Apostle justly concludes that the doctrine of the Gospel is sublimer than that of the Law, and ought to be more distinctly heard by all creatures. 270270     The quotation is literally neither from Hebrew nor from the Sept., but is substantially the same. “The earth and the heaven” may be deemed a phrase used to designate the whole state of things, as they include the whole of the visible creation. The whole Jewish polity, civil and religious, is generally supposed to be intended here. But as the shaking of the nations is mentioned in Haggai 2:6, 7, Macknight thought that by “the earth” is meant heathen idolatry, and by “heaven” the Jewish economy, so called because it was divinely appointed. If this be allowed, then we see a reason for the change which the Apostle has made in the words: the original is both in Hebrew and in the Sept., “I shake (or will shake) the heaven and the earth;” but the Apostle says: “I shake not only the earth, but the heaven also.” — Ed.

27. And this word, yet once more, etc. The words of the Prophet are these, “Yet a little while;” and he means that the calamity of the people would not be perpetual, but that the Lord would succor them. But the Apostle lays no stress on this expression; he only infers from the shaking of the heaven and the earth that the state of the world was to be changed at the coming of Christ; for things created are subject to decay, but Christ’s kingdom is eternal; then all creatures must needs be brought into a better state. 271271     See Appendix Y 2.

He makes hence a transition to another exhortation, that we are to lay hold on that kingdom which cannot be shaken; for the Lord shakes us for this end, that he may really and forever establish us in himself. At the same time I prefer a different reading, which is given by the ancient Latin version, “Receiving a kingdom, we have grace,” etc. When read affirmatively, the passage runs best, — “We, in embracing the Gospel, have the gift of the Spirit of Christ, that we may reverently and devoutly worship God.” If it be read as an exhortation, “Let us have,” it is a strained and obscure mode of speaking. The Apostle means in short, as I think, that provided we enter by faith into Christ’s kingdom, we shall enjoy constant grace, which will effectually retain us in the service of God; for as the kingdom of Christ is above the world, so is the gift of regeneration. 272272     See Appendix Z 2.

By saying that God is to be served acceptably, εὐαρέστως, with reverence and fear, he intimates that though he requires us to serve with promptitude and delight, there is yet no service approved by him except it be united with humility and due reverence. Thus he condemns froward confidence of the flesh, as well as the sloth which also proceeds from it. 273273     The Vulgate is, “with fear and reverence;” Beza’s “with modesty and reverence and religious fear;” Schleusner’s, “with reverence and devotion.” Stuart has adopted our version. See Appendix A 3. — Ed.

29. For our God, etc. As he had before kindly set before us the grace of God, so he now makes known his severity; and he seems to have borrowed this sentence from the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy. Thus we see that God omits nothing by which he may draw us to himself; he begins indeed with love and kindness, so that we may follow him the more willingly; but when by alluring he effects but little, he terrifies us.

And doubtless it is expedient that the grace of God should never be promised to us without being accompanied with threatening; for we are so extremely prone to indulge ourselves, that without the application of these stimulants the milder doctrine would prove ineffectual. Then the Lord, as he is propitious and merciful to such as fear him unto a thousand generations; so he is a jealous God and a just avenger, when despised, unto the third and the fourth generation. 274274     The conjunction καὶ at the beginning of this verse is commonly omitted by translators, but Macknight has retained it, “For even our God,” etc. The intimation clearly is, that under the Gospel no less than under the Law God is a consuming fire to apostates; and apostasy or idolatry is the sin especially referred to in Deuteronomy 4:24, from which this passage is taken. — Ed




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