Now of the things which we have spoken – Or, “of the things of which we are speaking” (Stuart); or as we should say, “of what is said.” The Greek does not necessarily mean things that “had been” spoken, but may refer to all that he was saying, taking the whole subject into consideration.
This is the sum – Or this is the principal thing; referring to what he was about to say, not what he had said. Our translators seem to have understood this as referring to a “summing up,” or recapitulation of what he had said, and there can be no doubt that the Greek would bear this interpretation. But another exposition has been proposed, adopted by Bloomfield, Stuart, Michaelis, and Storr, among the moderns, and found also in Suidas, Theodoret, Theophylact, and others, among the ancients. It is what regards the word rendered “sum” – κεφάλαιον kephalaion – as meaning the “principal thing;” the chief matter; the most important point. The reason for this interpretation is, that the apostle in fact goes into no recapitulation of what he had said, but enters on a new topic relating to the priesthood of Christ. Instead of going over what he had demonstrated, he enters on a more important point, that the priesthood of Christ is performed in heaven, and that he has entered into the true tabernacle there. All which preceded was type and shadow; this was that which the former economy had adumbrated. In the previous chapters the apostle had shown that he who sustained this office was superior in rank to the Jewish priests; that they were frail and dying, and that the office in their hands was changing from one to another, but that that of Christ was permanent and abiding. He now comes to consider the real nature of the office itself; the sacrifice which was offered; the substance of which all in the former dispensation was the type. This was the “principal thing” – κεφάλαιον kephalaion – the “head,” the most important matter; and the consideration of this is pursued through theHeb_8:1, Heb_9:1, and Heb_10:1 chapters Heb. 8–10.
We have such an high priest – That is settled; proved; indisputable. The Christian system is not destitute of what was regarded as so essential to the old dispensation – the office of a high priest.
Who is set on the right hand of a throne … – He is exalted to honor and glory before God. The right hand was regarded as the place of principal honor, and when it is said that Christ is at the right hand of God, the meaning is, that he is exalted to the highest honor in the universe; see the note at Mar_16:19. Of course the language is figurative – as God has no hands literally – but the language conveys an important meaning, that he is near to God; is high in his affection and love, and is raised to the most elevated situation in heaven; see Phi_2:9; notes Eph_1:21-22.
a minister] From this word leitourgos (derived from λεώς “people,” and ἔργον, “work”) comes our “liturgy.”
of the sanctuary] This (and not “of holy things,” or “of the saints”) is the only tenable rendering of the word in this Epistle.
and] The “and” does not introduce something new; it merely furnishes a more definite explanation of the previous word.
of the true tabernacle] Rather, “of the genuine tabernacle” (alethinηs not alethous). The word alethinos means “genuine,” and in this Epistle “ideal” “archetypal.” It is the antithesis not to what is spurious, but to what is material, secondary, and transient. The Alexandrian Jews, as well as the Christian scholars of Alexandria, had adopted from Plato the doctrine of Ideas, which they regarded as divine and eternal archetypes of which material and earthly things were but the imperfect copies. They found their chief support for this introduction of Platonic views into the interpretation of the Bible in Exo_25:40; Exo_26:30 (quoted in Heb_8:5). Accordingly they regarded the Mosaic tabernacle as a mere sketch, copy, or outline of the Divine Idea or Pattern. The Idea is the perfected Reality of its material shadow. They extended this conception much farther:
“What if earth
Be but the shadow of heaven, and things therein
Each to the other like, more than on earth is thought?”
The “genuine tabernacle” is the Heavenly Ideal (Heb_9:24) shewn to Moses. To interpret it of “the glorified body of Christ” by a mere verbal comparison of Joh_2:19, is to adopt the all-but-universal method of perverting the meaning of Scripture by the artificial elaborations and inferential afterthoughts of a scholastic theology.
pitched] Lit. “fixed.”
and not man] Omit “and.” Not a man, as Moses was. Comp. Heb_9:11; Heb_9:24.
A minister of the sanctuary (τῶν ἁγίων, neuter, as in Heb_9:12, equivalent to “the holy places;” cf. Heb_9:8; Heb_10:19), and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. The sphere of Christ’s priestly ministration (λειτουργὸς λειτουργεῖν, λειτουργία, being the recognized words in the LXX. and Josephus for denoting sacerdotal functions,—hence Liturgy) is thus in the first place pointed to as being a heavenly one, symbolized only by the earthly sanctuary. But what is the true tabernacle, in which Christ ministers? Are we to suppose that an actual prototype of the earthly tabernacle is regarded as existing locally beyond the sky? No; it is only implied that there are, in the suprasensuous sphere, facts and relations which are symbolized and made level to our comprehension by local imagery. Still, there may be conceived as present to the writer’s mind an ideal picture of a heavenly temple, such as was seen in vision by prophets, and served to aid their conception of realities beyond their ken. Thus in Psa_29:1-11., where the thunderstorm is described, the LORD is conceived, in the introductory and concluding verses, as enthroned above it in his heavenly temple, sitting there a King for ever, and worshipped by the “sons of God.” Thus in 1Ki_22:19 Michaiah sees in vision “the Loud sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him, on his right hand and on his left.” In Isa_6:1-13. this throne is seen as the distinct counterpart of the mercy-seat in the earthly temple, with the winged forms above it, and the “house” filled with the smoke of incense, and live coals upon the altar. Ezekiel’s still more remarkable visions (Heb_1:1-14., 10., 11) are in like manner enlargements of the idea of the Shechinah in the holy of holies (cf. also Psa_11:4; Mic_1:2; Heb_2:1-18 :20). Then the visions of St. John in the Revelation have the same basis; there is still seen a glorious counterpart above of the temple below; though now with new accessories, expressive of accomplished redemption. But that St. John’s visions are meant only as imagery representing the incomprehensible is evident throughout, and especially from the ideal description of the holy city in Rev_21:1-27., in which Rev_21:22 is peculiarly significant: “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” In the same way is to be understood the “true tabernacle.” If, as we may suppose, the writer had before his mind the prophetic visions of such a heavenly temple, he entertains them only as imaging spiritual facts and relations in the regions of eternity. “Which the Lord pitched,” etc., may have reference to Isa_42:5, Ὁ ποιη ́ σας τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ πήξας αὐτὸν, LXX.
For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices – This is a general statement about the functions of the high priest. It was the uniqueness of the office; it constituted its essence, that some gift or sacrifice was to be presented. This was indisputable in regard to the Jewish high priest, and this is involved in the nature of the priestly office everywhere. A “priest” is one who offers sacrifice, mainly in behalf of others. The principles involved in the office are:
(1) That there is need that some offering or atonement should be made for sin; and,
(2) That there is a fitness or propriety that some one should be designated to do it.
If this idea that a priest must offer sacrifice be correct, then it follows that the name priest should not be given to any one who is not appointed to offer sacrifice. It should not therefore be given to the ministers of the gospel, for it is no part of their work to offer sacrifice – the great sacrifice for sin having been once offered by the Lord Jesus, and not being again to be repeated. Accordingly the writers in the New Testament are perfectly uniform and consistent on this point. The name priest is never once given to the ministers of the gospel there. They are called ministers, ambassadors, pastors, bishops, overseers, etc., but never priests. Nor should they be so called in the Christian church. The name priest as applied to Christian ministers, has been derived from the “papists.” They hold that the priest does offer as a sacrifice the real body and blood of Christ in the mass, and holding this, the name priest is given to the minister who does it “consistently.” It is not indeed “right or Scriptural” – for the whole doctrine on which it is based is absurd and false, but while that doctrine is held the name is consistent. But with what show of consistency or propriety can the name be given to a Protestant minister of the gospel?
Wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer – That the Lord Jesus should make an offering. That is, since he is declared to be a priest, and since it is essential to the office that a priest should make an offering, it is indispensable that he should bring a sacrifice to God. He could not be a priest on the acknowledged principles on which that office is held, unless he did it. What the offering was which the Lord Jesus made, the apostle specifies more fully in Heb_9:11-14, Heb_9:25-26.
For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this one also have somewhat to offer. For (rather, nay; the reading μὲν οὗν being better supported than the Textus Receptus μὲν γὰρ) if he were on earth, he would not even be a priest, seeing there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law. These verses are in proof of the assertion of Heb_8:2, viz. that Christ has his ministry in the heavenly tabernacle. He has been shown to be a High Priest: therefore he must make some offering, this being the very purpose of a high priest’s office (cf. Heb_5:1). But where? Not certainly in the earthly tabernacle, this being served already, and exclusively served, by the sons of Aaron. Therefore it must be in the heavenly sphere symbolized by the earthly tabernacle. And then, in Heb_8:5, that there is a heavenly reality, of which the earthly tabernacle is but a shadow, is shown by what was said of the latter when it was made. (What Christ offers in the heavenly sphere is surely his own atoning sacrifice. Some commentators have found a difficulty in this conception on the ground that this his sacrifice had been completed once for all before his ascension. True; but he is regarded as carrying its efficacy with him to the mercy-seat above, and so for ever offering it; even as it is continually commemorated and pleaded in the Eucharist by the Church below. And thus, be it observed, the symbolism of the Day of Atonement is accurately fulfilled. For the high priest did not sacrifice within the tabernacle; he only carried to the holy of holies the blood, representing the atoning efficacy of the sacrifice made outside before his entrance)
who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things] Namely, the priests—who are ministering in that which is nothing but an outline and shadow (Heb_10:1; Col_2:17) of the heavenly things. The verb “minister” usually takes a dative of the person to whom the ministry is paid. Here and in Heb_13:10 the dative is used of the thing in which the service is done. It is conceivable that there is a shade of irony in this—they serve not a Living God, but a dead tabernacle. And this tabernacle is only a sketch, an outline, a ground pattern (1Ch_28:11) as it were—at the best a representative image—of the Heavenly Archetype.
of heavenly things] Perhaps rather “of the heavenly sanctuary” (Heb_9:23-24).
as Moses was admonished …] “Even as Moses, when about to complete the tabernacle has been divinely admonished”.… On this use of the perfect see note on Heb_4:9, &c. The verb is used of divine intimations in Mat_2:12; Luk_2:26; Act_10:22 &c.
all things] This expression is not found either in the Hebrew or the LXX. of the passages referred to (Exo_25:40; Exo_26:30); it seems to be due to Philo (De Leg, Alleg. iii. 33), who may, however, have followed some older reading.
according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount] Here, as is so often the case in comments on Scripture, we are met by the idlest of all speculations, as to whether Moses saw this “pattern” in a dream or with his waking eyes; whether the pattern was something real or merely an impression produced upon his senses; whether the tabernacle was thus a copy or only “a copy of a copy and a shadow of a shadow,” &c. Such questions are otiose, because even if they were worth asking at all they do not admit of any answer, and involve no instruction, and no result of the smallest value. The Palestinian Jews in their slavish literal way said that there was in Heaven an exact literal counterpart of the Mosaic Tabernacle with “a fiery Ark, a fiery Table, a fiery Candlestick,” &c, which descended from heaven for Moses to see; and that Gabriel, in a workman’s apron, shewed Moses how to make the candlestick,—an inference which they founded on Num_8:4, “And this work of the candlestick” (Menachoth, f. 29. 1). Without any such fetish-worship of the letter it is quite enough to accept the simple statement that Moses worked after a pattern which God had brought before his mind. The chief historical interest in the verse is the fact that it was made the basis for the Scriptural Idealism by which Philo and the Alexandrian Jews tried to combine Judaism with the Platonic philosophy, and to treat the whole material world as a shadow of the spiritual world.
But now (νυνὶ in its usual logical, not temporal, sense; cf. Heb_11:16; also Heb_2:8; Heb_9:26; Heb_12:26) hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the Mediator of a better covenant, which (ἥτις, equivalent to quippequae, as usual) hath been established upon better promises. Here the idea of the new διαθήκη, introduced first in the way of anticipation at Heb_7:22, is brought to the front, to be carried out in what follows. There the proved superior greatness of the predicted priest was made the measure of the superior excellence of the covenant of which he has become Surety; here the superior excellence of the new covenant, which is now to be shown from prophecy, is made /he measure of that of Christ’s priestly ministry, which has just been proved to be of necessity in the sphere of heavenly realities of which the Mosaic ritual was but a copy and shadow. The word here used is not ἔγγυος (“surety”), as in Heb_7:22, but μεσίτης (“mediator”); on which it is to be observed that the mediator of the old covenant was not Aaron, but Moses (see Gal_3:19): it was he that intervened between God and the congregation in the establishment of the covenant; and thus, in this respect also, the priesthood of the new covenant transcends the old one, in that (as was shown also in the earlier part of the Epistle) the type of Moses, as well as of Aaron, is fulfilled in it. The word νενομοθέτηται (“established” in A.V; “enacted” in the recent R.V) expresses the promulgation of a law—appositely in the first place to the Law of Moses, which constituted the conditions of the old covenant; but also to the description of the new covenant, which follows from Jeremiah, according to which the law remains, but to be written on the heart. The gospel is elsewhere regarded under the idea of law, though not a law of bondage, but of liberty—a law, not of the letter, but of the Spirit (see Rom_3:27; Rom_8:2; Rom_9:31; Jas_1:25). The “better promises” are such as the passage from Jeremiah, quoted below, notably represents. Other passages might be referred to (such as Eze_36:25, etc; Eze_37:24, etc), of similar significance, though not with the same marked mention of a new covenant to supersede the old one. This memorable passage (Jer_31:31-35) occurs in a distinct section of Jeremiah’s prophecies (Jer_30:1-24; Jer_31:1-40), delivered after the commencement of the Captivity, and directed to be written in a book. The subject of the whole section is the restoration of Israel, its ultimate Messianic reference being patent to all who acknowledge any such at all in prophecy. In evidence of this there is not only the passage before us, pointing to an entirely new covenant with Israel, and the ideal tone of the whole prophecy, but also, in particular, the view of all the scattered tribes, not Judah only—the whole ideal Israel—being gathered together from all countries to Zion, and of David himself to rule over them as king. The national and local framework, which the picture has in common with other prophetic visions of the coming days, is of course no difficulty to those familiar with the style of the prophetic books.
if that first covenant had been faultless] Whereas it was as he has said “weak” and “unprofitable” and “earthly” (Heb_7:18). The difference between the writer’s treatment of the relation between Christianity and Judaism and St Paul’s mode of dealing with the same subject consists in this:—to St Paul the contrast between the Law and the Gospel was that between the Letter and the Spirit, between bondage and freedom, between Works and Faith, between Command and Promise, between threatening and mercy. All these polemical elements disappear almost entirely from the Epistle to the Hebrews, which regards the two dispensations as furnishing a contrast between Type and Reality. This was the more possible to Apollos because he regards Judaism not so much in the light of a Law as in the light of a Priesthood and a system of worship. Like those who had been initiated into the ancient mysteries the Christian convert from Judaism could say ἔφυγον κακὸν εὗρον ἄμεινον—“I fled the bad, I found the better;” not that Judaism was in any sense intrinsically and inherently “bad” (Rom_7:12), but that it became so when it was preferred to something so much more divine.
Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown
For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:
Finding fault with them – the people of the old covenant not made “faultless” by it (Heb_8:7); whose disregard of God’s covenant made Him to ‘regard them not’ (Heb_8:9). The law is not in itself blamed, but the people who observed it not.
He saith (Jer_31:31-34 : cf. Eze_11:19; Eze_36:25-27). At Rama, the headquarters of Nebuzaradan, where the captives of Jerusalem had been led, Jeremiah uttered this prophecy of Israel’s restoration under another David, whereby Rachel, wailing for her lost children, shall be comforted: in part fulfilled at the restoration under Zerubbabel: more fully to be hereafter at Israel’s return to their own land; spiritually fulfilled in the Gospel, whereby God forgives absolutely His people’s sins and writes His law, by His Spirit, on the hearts of believers-the true Israel. ‘This prophecy forms the third part of the third trilogy of the three great trilogies into which Jeremiah’s prophecies may be divided: Jer_21:1-14; Jer_22:1-30; Jer_23:1-40; Jer_24:1-10; Jer_25:1-38, against the shepherds of the people; Jer_26:1-24; Jer_27:1-22; Jer_28:1-17; Jer_29:1-32, against the false prophets; Jer_30:1-24; Jer_31:1-40, the book of restoration’ (Delitzsch in Alford).
Behold, the days come – the formula introducing a Messianic prophecy.
Make , [ suntelesoo (G4931)] – ‘perfect,’ ‘consummate.’ Appropriate to the new covenant which perfected what the old could not (cf. end of Heb_8:9 with end of Heb_8:10).
Israel … Judah – therefore, the ten tribes, as well as Judah, share in the new covenant. As both shared the exile, so both shall share the literal and spiritual restoration.
For finding fault with them – Or rather, “finding fault, he says to them.” The difference is only in the punctuation, and this change is required by the passage itself. This is commonly interpreted as meaning that the fault was not found with “them” – that is, with the Jewish people, for they had had nothing to do in giving the covenant, but “with the covenant itself.” “Stating its defects, he had said to them that he would give them one more perfect, and of which that was only preparatory.” So Grotius, Stuart, Rosenmuller, and Erasmus understand it. Doddridge, Koppe, and many others understand it as it is in our translation, as implying that the fault was found with the people, and they refer to the passage quoted from Jeremiah for proof, where the complaint is of the people. The Greek may bear either construction; but may we not adopt a somewhat different interpretation still?
May not this be the meaning? For using the language of complaint, or language that implied that there was defect or error, he speaks of another covenant. According to this, the idea would be, not that he found fault specifically either with the covenant or the people, but generally that he used language which implied that there was defect somewhere when he promised another and a better covenant. The word rendered “finding fault” properly means to censure, or to blame. It is rendered in Mar_7:2, “they found fault,” to wit, with those who ate with unwashed hands; in Rom_9:19, “why doth he yet find fault?” It occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, It is language used where wrong has been done; where there is ground of complaint; where it is desirable that there should be a change. In the passage here quoted from Jeremiah, it is not expressly stated that God found fault either with the covenant or with the people, but that he promised that he would give another covenant, and that it should be “different” from what he gave them when they came out of Egypt – implying that there was defect in that, or that it was not “faultless.” The whole meaning is, that there was a deficiency which the giving of a new covenant would remove.
He saith – In Jer_31:31-34. The apostle has not quoted the passage literally as it is in the Hebrew, but he has retained the substance, and the sense is not essentially varied. The quotation appears to have been made partly from the Septuagint, and partly from memory. This often occurs in the New Testament.
Behold – This particle is designed to call attention to what was about to be said as important, or as having some special claim to notice. It is of very frequent occurrence in the Scriptures, being much more freely used by the sacred writers than it is in the classic authors.
The days come – The time is coming. This refers doubtless to the times of the Messiah. Phrases such as these, “in the last days,” “in after times,” and “the time is coming,” are often used in the Old Testament to denote the last dispensation of the world – the dispensation when the affairs of the world would be wound up; see the phrase explained in the Heb_1:2 note, and Isa_2:2 note. There can be no doubt that as it is used by Jeremiah it refers to the times of the gospel.
When I will make a new covenant – A covenant that shall contemplate somewhat different ends; that shall have different conditions, and that shall be more effective in restraining from sin. The word “covenant” here refers to the arrangement, plan, or dispensation into which he would enter in his dealings with people. On the meaning of the word, see the Act_7:8 note, and Heb_9:16-17 notes. The word “covenant” with us commonly denotes a compact or agreement between two parties that are equal, and who are free to enter into the agreement or not. In this sense, of course, it cannot be used in relation to the arrangement which God makes with man. There is:
(1) No equality between them, and,
(2) Man is not at liberty to reject any proposal which God shall make.
The word, therefore, is used in a more general sense, and more in accordance with the original meaning of the Greek word. It has been above remarked (see the notes on Heb_8:6), that the “proper” word to denote “covenant,” or “compact” – συνθηκη sunthēkē – “syntheke” – is never used either in the Septuagint or in the New Testament – another word – διαθήκη diathēkē – “diatheke” – being carefully employed. Whether the reason there suggested for the adoption of this word in the Septuagint be the real one or not, the fact is indisputable. I may be allowed to suggest as possible here an additional reason why this so uniformly occurs in the New Testament. It is, that the writers of the New Testament never meant to represent the transactions between God and man as a “compact or covenant” properly so called. They have studiously avoided it, and their uniform practice, in making this nice distinction between the two words, may show the real sense in which the Hebrew word rendered “covenant” – בּרית beriyt – is used in the Old Testament. The word which they employ – διαθήκη diathēkē – never means a compact or agreement as between equals.
It remotely and secondarily means a “will, or testament” – and hence, our phrase “New Testament.” But this is not the sense in which it is used in the Bible – for God has never made a will in the sense of a testamentary disposition of what belongs to him. We are referred; therefore, in order to arrive at the true Scripture view of this whole matter, to the original meaning of the word – διαθήκη diathēkē – as denoting a “disposition, arrangement, plan;” then what is ordered, a law, precept, promise, etc. Unhappily we have no single word which expresses the idea, and hence, a constant error has existed in the church – either keeping up the notion of a “compact” – as if God could make one with people; or the idea of a will – equally repugnant to truth. The word διαθήκη diathēkē is derived from a verb – διατίθημι diatithēmi – meaning to place apart, to set in order; and then to appoint, to make over, to make an arrangement with. Hence, the word διαθήκη diathēkē – means properly the “arrangement or disposition” which God made with people in regard to salvation; the system of statutes, directions, laws, and promises by which people are to become subject to him, and to be saved. The meaning here is, that he would make a “new” arrangement, contemplating as a primary thing that the Law should be written in the “heart;” an arrangement which would be especially spiritual in its character, and which would be attended with the diffusion of just views of the Lord.
With the house of Israel – The family, or race of Israel, for so the word “house” is often used in the Scriptures and elsewhere. The word “Israel” is used in the Scriptures in the following senses:
(1) As a name given to Jacob because he wrestled with the angel of God and prevailed as a prince; Gen_32:28.
(2) As denoting all who were descended from him – called “the children of Israel” – or the Jewish nation.
(3) As denoting the kingdom of the ten tribes – or the kingdom of Samaria, or Ephraim – that kingdom having taken the name Israel in contradistinction from the other kingdom, which was called “Judah.”
(4) As denoting the people of God in general – his true and sincere friends – his church; see the notes on Rom_2:28-29; Rom_9:6.
In this place quoted from Jeremiah, it seems to be used to denote the kingdom of Israel in contradistinction from that of Judah, and “together they denote the whole people of God, or the whole Hebrew nation.” This arrangement was ratified and confirmed by the gift of the Messiah, and by implanting his laws in the heart. It is not necessary to understand this as referring to the whole of the Jews, or to the restoration of the ten tribes; but the words “Israel” and “Judah” are used to denote the people of God in general, and the idea is, that with the true Israel under the Messiah the laws of God would be written in the heart rather than be mere external observances.
And with the house of Judah – The kingdom of Judah. This kingdom consisted of two tribes – Judah and Benjamin. The tribe of Benjamin was, however, small, and the name was lost in that of Judah.
Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown
Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.
Not according to – Very different from, and far superior to, the old covenant, which only ‘worked wrath’ (Rom_4:15) through man’s ‘not regarding’ it. The new covenant enables us to obey, by the Spirit’s impulse producing love because of the forgiveness of our sins.
Made with – Greek, ‘to:’ the Israelites being only recipients, not co-agents (Alford) with God. [ Diatheekee (G1242) does not, like ‘covenant,’ suntheekee (G4936), imply reciprocity: but a legal disposition, dispensation, the gift of God to man; not a compact between God and man.]
I took them by the hand – as a father takes his child to support and guide his steps. ‘There are three periods:
(1) That of the promise;
(2) Of pedagogical instruction;
(3) Of fulfillment’ (Bengel).
The second, the pedagogical pupilage, began at the exodus.
I regarded them not. The English version (Jer_31:32) translates, “although I was an husband into them.” Paul’s translation here is supported by the Septuagint, Syriac, and Gesenius, and accords with the kindred Arabic. The Hebrews regarded not God: so God, in righteous retribution, regarded them not. Schelling observes-The law was in fact the mere ideal of a religious constitution: in practice the Jews were throughout, before the captivity, more or less polytheists, except under David, and the first years of Solomon (the type of Messiah’s reign). After the return from Babylon to idolatry there succeeded what was not much better, formalism and hypocrisy (Mat_12:43). The law was —
(1) A typical picture, tracing out the features of the glorious Gospel to be revealed;
(2) It had a delegated virtue from the Gospel, which ceased when, the Gospel came.
Pop Comm Bible Schaff
Heb_8:10. The new differs also from the old in this, that—(a) God will write His law upon their hearts; (b) they shall be permanently His people, and He will be their God (Heb_8:11); (c) the true knowledge of God, moreover, will become the common heritage of all the members of the polity He is about to establish (Heb_8:12); and fourthly, (d) a more excellent promise, itself the beginning and the very reason (for) of the rest; God will forgive (will be propitious to them, and to) their unrighteousness and their sins and their lawlessness will he remember no more. Sins of every kind He will forgive—at once and for ever. How completely this teaching agrees with Paul’s need not be shown. In Christ all is forgiven when once men believe, and yet the doctrine is not the minister of sin, for the faith that justifies is ever the beginning of renewal, the germ of a holy life.
And they shall not teach every man his neighbor … – That is, no one shall be under a necessity of imparting instruction to another, or of exhorting him to become acquainted with the Lord. This is designed to set forth another of the advantages which would attend the new dispensation. In the previous verse it had been said that one advantage of that economy would be, that the Law would be written on the heart, and that they who were thus blessed would be regarded as the people of God. Another advantage over the “old” arrangement or covenant is here stated. It is, that the knowledge of the Lord and of the true religion would be deeply engraved on the minds of all, and that there would be no necessity for mutual exhortation and counsel. “They shall have a much more certain and effectual teaching than they can derive from another.” “Doddridge.” This passage does not refer to the fact that the true religion will be universally diffused, but that among those who are interested in the blessings of the new covenant there would be an accurate and just knowledge of the Lord. In some way they would be so taught respecting his character that they would not need the aid to be derived from others. All under that dispensation, or sustaining to him the relation of “a people,” would in fact have a correct knowledge of the Lord. This could not be said of the old dispensation, for.
(1) Their religion consisted much in outward observances.
(2) It was not to such an extent as the new system a dispensation of the Holy Spirit.
(3) There were not as many means as now for learning the true character of God.
(4) The fullest revelations had not been made to them of that character. That was reserved for the coming of the Saviour, and under him it was intended that there should be communicated the full knowledge of the character of God.
Many mss., and those among the best, here have πολίτην politēn – “citizen;” “fellow-citizen,” instead of πλησίον plēsion, “neighbor,” and this is adopted by Griesbach, Tittman, Rosenmuller, Knapp, Stuart, and by many of the fathers. It is also in the version of the Septuagint in the place quoted from Jeremiah. It is not easy to determine the true reading, but the word “neighbor” better agrees with the meaning of the Hebrew – רץ rēà – and there is strong authority from the mss. and the versions for this reading.
And every man his brother – Another form of expression, meaning that there would be no necessity that one should teach another.
Saying, Know the Lord – That is, become acquainted with God; learn his character and his will. The idea is, that the true knowledge of Yahweh would prevail as a characteristic of those times.
For all shall know me – That is, all those referred to; all who are interested in the new covenant, and who are partakers of its blessings. It does not mean that all persons, in all lands, would then know the Lord – though the time will come when that will be true; but the expression is to be limited by the point under discussion. That point is not that the knowledge of the Lord will fill the whole world, but that all who are interested in the new dispensation will have a much more full and clear knowledge of God than was possessed under the old. Of the truth of this no one can doubt. Christians have a much more perfect knowledge of God and of his government than could have been learned merely from the revelations of the Old Testament.
I will be merciful to their unrighteousness] Comp. Rom_11:27. The third promise of the New Covenant is the forgiveness of sins, with a fulness and reality which could not be achieved by the sacrifices of the Old Covenant (see Heb_2:15, Heb_9:9; Heb_9:12, Heb_10:1-2; Heb_10:4; Heb_10:22). Under the Old Covenant there had been a deep feeling of the nullity of sacrifices in themselves, which led to an almost startling disparagement of the sacrificial system (1Sa_15:22; Psa_40:6; Psa_50:8-10; Psa_51:16; Mic_6:6-7; Isa_1:11; Hos_6:6; Amo_5:21-22, &c.)
For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness … – That is, the blessing of “pardon” will be much more richly enjoyed under the new dispensation than it was under the old. This is the “fourth” circumstance adduced in which the new covenant will surpass the old. That was comparatively severe in its inflictions (see Heb_10:28); marked every offence with strictness, and employed the language of mercy much less frequently than that of justice. It was a system where law and justice reigned; not where mercy was the crowning and prevalent attribute. It was true that it contemplated pardon, and made arrangements for it; but it is still true that this is much more prominent in the new dispensation than in the old. It is there the leading idea. It is what separates it from all other systems. The entire arrangement is one for the pardon of sin in a manner consistent with the claims of law and justice, and it bestows the benefit of forgiveness in the most ample and perfect manner on all who are interested in the plan. In fact, the uniqueness by which the gospel is distinguished from all other systems, ancient and modern, philosophic and moral, pagan and deistical, is that it is a system making provision for the forgiveness of sin, and actually bestowing pardon on the guilty. This is the center, the crown, the glory of the new dispensation. God is merciful to the unrighteousness of people and their sins are remembered no more.
Will I remember no more – This is evidently spoken after the manner of men, and in accordance with human apprehension. It cannot mean literally that God forgets that people are sinners, but it means that he treats them as if this were forgotten. Their sins are not charged upon them, and they are no more punished than if they had passed entirely out of the recollection. God treats them with just as much kindness, and regards them with as sincere affection, as if their sins ceased wholly to be remembered, or which is the same thing, as if they had never sinned.
In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. But that which is becoming old and waxeth aged is nigh unto vanishing away. “He hath made the first old” (πεπαλαίωκε) refers to the time of Jeremiah’s prophecy, not of the writing of the Epistle. The very mention of a new covenant had even then antiquated the other. It thenceforth survived only under the category of old as opposed to new; and further marked with the growing decrepitude which is the precursor of dissolution. This further idea is expressed by the present participle παλαιούμενον (elsewhere applied to garments that are wearing out; cf. Psa_102:27; Heb_1:11; Isa_1:9; Isa_51:6; Luk_12:33), and also by γηράσκον, a figure taken from the advance of old age in men. When the Epistle was written, it would not have been spoken of as “waxing old,” but as defunct. The temple, indeed, was still standing, with the old ritual going on; but it had become but as the stately shrine of a lifeless thing. As to the view of the antiquation having begun even in the prophetic age, we observe that the prophets themselves show a consciousness of this, in that their growing tendency is to depreciate rather than exalt the ceremonial Law, and to put mercy above sacrifice. In fact, the Old Testament itself, especially in its later parts, is replete with the principles of the new covenant, anticipated in part, though not to be fully revealed till Christ appeared. And so, when he did appear, the old dispensation had already become obsolete, and the new one prepared for; to be rejected in Israel by those only who, “in the reading of the Old Testament,” had “the veil upon their heart.”