1–3. An exhortation to patient steadfastness
1. Wherefore] The Greek word is a very strong particle of inference not found elsewhere in the N. T. except in 1Th_4:8.
seeing we also are compassed] The order of the Greek is “Let us also, seeing we are compassed with so great a cloud of witnesses … run with patience.”
a cloud] A classical Greek and Latin, as well as Hebrew, metaphor for a great multitude. Thus Homer speaks of “a cloud of foot-soldiers.” We have the same metaphor in Isa_60:8, “who are these who fly as clouds” (Heb.). Here, as St Clemens of Alexandria says, the cloud is imagined to be “holy and translucent.”
of witnesses] The word has not yet fully acquired its sense of “martyrs.” It here probably means “witnesses to the sincerity and the reward of faith.” The notion that they are also witnesses of our Christian race lies rather in the word περικείμενον, “surrounding us on all sides,” like the witnesses in a circus or a theatre (1Co_4:9).
let us lay aside every weight] Lit., “stripping off at once cumbrance of every kind.” The word “weight” was used, technically, in the language of athletes, to mean “superfluous flesh,” to be reduced by training. The training requisite to make the body supple and sinewy was severe and long-continued. Metaphorically the word comes to mean “pride,” “inflation.”
and the sin which doth so easily beset us] The six words “which doth so easily beset us” represent one Greek word, euperistaton, of which the meaning is uncertain, because it occurs nowhere else. It means literally “well standing round,” or “well stood around.” (1) If taken in the latter sense it is interpreted to mean (α) “thronged,” “eagerly encircled,” and so “much admired” or “much applauded,” and will thus put us on our guard against sins which are popular; or (β) “easily avoidable,” with reference to the verb peri-istaso, “avoid” (2Ti_2:16; Tit_3:9). The objections to these renderings are that the writer is thinking of private sins. More probably it is to be taken in the active sense, as in the A. V. and the R. V. of the sin which either (α) “presses closely about us to attack us;” or (β) which “closely clings (tenaciter inhaerens, Erasmus) to us” like an enfolding robe (statos chiton). The latter is almost certainly the true meaning, and is suggested by the participle apothemenoi, “stripping off” (comp. Eph_4:22). As an athlete lays aside every heavy or dragging article of dress, so we must strip away from us and throw aside the clinging robe of familiar sin. The metaphor is the same as that of the word apekdusasthai (Col_3:9), which is the parallel to apothesthai in Eph_4:22. The gay garment of sin may at first be lightly put on and lightly laid aside, but it afterwards becomes like the fabled shirt of Nessus eating into the bones as it were fire.
with patience] Endurance (hupomonη) characterised the faith of all these heroes and patriarchs, and he exhorts us to endure because Christ also endured the cross (hupomeinas).
the race that is set before us] One of the favourite metaphors of St Paul (Php_3:12-14; 1Co_9:24-25; 2Ti_4:7-8).
Wherefore – In view of what has been said in the previous chapter.
Seeing we also are encompassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses – The apostle represents those to whom he had referred in the previous chapter, as looking on to witness the efforts which Christians make, and the manner in which they live. There is allusion here, doubtless, to the ancient games. A great multitude of spectators usually occupied the circular seats in the amphitheater, from which they could easily behold the combatants; see the notes on 1Co_9:24-27. In like manner, the apostle represents Christians as encompassed with the multitude of worthies to whom he had referred in the previous chapter. It cannot be fairly inferred from this that he means to say that all those ancient worthies were actually looking at the conduct of Christians, and saw their conflicts. It is a figurative representation, such as is common, and means that we ought to act as if they were in sight, and cheered us on. How far the spirits of the just who are departed from this world are permitted to behold what is done on earth – if at all – is not revealed in the Scriptures. The phrase, “a cloud of witnesses,” means many witnesses, or a number so great that they seem to be a cloud. The comparison of a multitude of persons to a cloud is common in the classic writers; see Homer II. 4:274, 23:133; Statius 1:340, and other instances adduced in Wetstein, in loc.; compare notes on 1Th_4:17.
Let us lay aside every weight – The word rendered “weight” – ὄγκον ogkon – means what is crooked or hooked, and thence any thing that is attached or suspended by a hook that is, by its whole weight, and hence means weight; see “Passow.” It does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. The word is often used in the classic writers in the sense of swelling, tumour, pride. Its usual meaning is that of weight or burden, and there is allusion here, doubtless, to the runners in the games who were careful not to encumber themselves with anything that was heavy. Hence, their clothes were so made as not to impede their running, and hence, they were careful in their training not to overburden themselves with food, and in every way to remove what would be an impediment or hindrance. As applied to the racers it does not mean that they began to run with anything like a burden, and then threw it away – as persons sometimes aid their jumping by taking a stone in their hands to acquire increased momentum – but that they were careful not to allow anything that would be a weight or an encumbrance.
As applied to Christians it means that they should remove all which would obstruct their progress in the Christian course. Thus, it is fair to apply it to whatever would be an impediment in our efforts to win the crown of life. It is not the same thing in all persons. In one it may be pride; in another vanity; in another worldliness; in another a violent and almost ungovernable temper; in another a corrupt imagination; in another a heavy, leaden, insensible heart; in another some improper and unholy attachment. Whatever it may be, we are exhorted to lay it aside, and this general direction may be applied to anything which prevents our making the highest possible attainment in the divine life. Some persons would make much more progress if they would throw away many of their personal ornaments; some, if they would disencumber themselves of the heavy weight of gold which they are endeavoring to carry with them. So some very light objects, in themselves considered, become material encumbrances. Even a feather or a ring – such may be the fondness for these toys – may become such a weight that they will never make much progress toward the prize.
And the sin which doth so easily beset us – The word which is here rendered “easily beset” – εὐπερίστατον euperistaton – “euperistaton” – does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. It properly means, “standing well around;” and hence, denotes what is near, or at hand, or readily occurring. So Chrysostom explains it. Passow defines it as meaning “easy to encircle.” Tyndale renders it “the sin that hangeth on us.” Theodoret and others explain the word as if derived from περίστασις peristasis – a word which sometimes means affliction, peril – and hence, regard it as denoting what is full of peril, or the sin which so easily subjects one to calamity. Bloomfield supposes, in accordance with the opinion of Grotius, Crellius, Kype, Kuinoel, and others, that it means “the sin which especially winds around us, and hinders our course,” with allusion to the long Oriental garments. According to this, the meaning would be, that as a runner would be careful not to encumber himself with a garment which would be apt to wind around his legs in running, and hinder him, so it should be with the Christian, who especially ought to lay aside everything which resembles this; that is, all sin, which must impede his course. The former of these interpretations, however, is most commonly adopted, and best agrees with the established sense of the word. It will then mean that we are to lay aside every encumbrance, particularly or especially – for so the word καὶ kai “and,” should be rendered here “the sins to which we are most exposed.” Such sins are appropriately called “easily besetting sins.” They are those to which we are particularly liable. They are such sins as the following:
(1) Those to which we are particularly exposed by our natural temperament, or disposition. In some this is pride, in others indolence, or gaiety, or levity, or avarice, or ambition, or sensuality.
(2) Those in which we freely indulged before we became Christians. They will be likely to return with power, and we are far more likely from the laws of association, to fall into them than into any other. Thus, a man who has been intemperate is in special danger from that quarter; a man who has been an infidel, is in special danger of scepticism: one who has been avaricious, proud, frivolous, or ambitious, is in special danger, even after conversion, of again committing these sins.
(3) Sins to which we are exposed by our profession, by our relations to others, or by our situation in life. They whose condition will entitle them to associate with what are regarded as the more elevated classes of society, are in special danger of indulging in the methods of living, and of amusement that are common among them; they who are prospered in the world are in danger of losing the simplicity and spirituality of their religion; they who hold a civil office are in danger of becoming mere politicians, and of losing the very form and substance of piety.
(4) Sins to which we are exposed from some special weakness in our character. On some points we may be in no danger. We may be constitutionally so firm as not to be especially liable to certain forms of sin. But every man has one or more weak points in his character; and it is there that he is particularly exposed. A bow may be in the main very strong. All along its length there may be no danger of its giving way – save at one place where it has been made too thin, or where the material was defective – and if it ever breaks, it will of course be at that point. That is the point, therefore, which needs to be guarded and strengthened. So in reference to character. There is always some weak point which needs specially to be guarded, and our principal danger is there. Self-knowledge, so necessary in leading a holy life, consists much in searching out those weak points of character where we are most exposed; and our progress in the Christian course will be determined much by the fidelity with which we guard and strengthen them.
And let us run with patience the race that is set before us. – The word rendered “patience” rather means in this place, perseverance. We are to run the race without allowing ourselves to be hindered by any obstructions, and without giving out or fainting in the way. Encouraged by the example of the multitudes who have run the same race before us, and who are now looking out upon us from heaven, where they dwell, we are to persevere as they did to the end.
Looking unto Jesus – Αφορωντες· Looking off and on, or from and to; looking off or from the world and all secular concerns to Jesus and all the spiritual and heavenly things connected with him. This is still an allusion to the Grecian games: those who ran were to keep their eyes fixed on the mark of the prize; they must keep the goal in view. The exhortation implies,
1. That they should place all their hope and confidence in Christ, as their sole helper in this race of faith.
2. That they should consider him their leader in this contest and imitate his example.
The author and finisher of – faith – Αρχηγος, translated here author, signifies, in general, captain or leader, or the first inventor of a thing; see Heb_2:10. But the reference seems to be here to the βραβευς, or judge in the games, whose business it was to admit the contenders, and to give the prize to the conqueror. Jesus is here represented as this officer; every Christian is a contender in this race of life, and for eternal life. The heavenly course is begun under Jesus; and under him it is completed. He is the finisher, by awarding the prize to them that are faithful unto death. Thus he is the author or the judge under whom, and by whose permission and direction, according to the rules of the heavenly race, they are permitted to enter the lists, and commence the race, and he is the finisher, τελειωτης, the perfecter, by awarding and giving the prize which consummates the combatants at the end of the race.
Who, for the joy that was set before him – The joy of fulfilling the will of the Father, Psa_40:6-8, etc., in tasting death for every man; and having endured the cross and despised the shame of this ignominious death, He is set down at the right hand of God, ever appearing in the presence of God for us, and continuing his exhibition of himself as our Sacrifice, and his intercession as our Mediator. See the notes on Heb_10:5, etc. There are different other explanations given of this clause, but I think that here offered is the most natural. It never can, in any sense, be said of Jesus that he endured the cross, etc., in the prospect of gaining an everlasting glory; when he had the fullness of that glory with the Father before the world began; Joh_17:5.
Looking unto Jesus – As a further inducement to do this, the apostle exhorts us to look to the Saviour. We are to look to his holy life; to his patience and perseverance in trials; to what he endured in order to obtain the crown, and to his final success and triumph.
The author and finisher of our faith – The word “our” is not in the original here, and obscures the sense. The meaning is, he is the first and the last as an example of faith or of confidence in God – occupying in this, as in all other things, the pre-eminence, and being the most complete model that can be placed before us. The apostle had not enumerated him among those who had been distinguished for their faith, but he now refers to him as above them all; as a case that deserved to stand by itself. It is probable that there is a continuance here of the allusion to the Grecian games which the apostle had commenced in the previous verse. The word “author” – ἀρχηγὸν archēgon – (marg. beginner) – means properly the source, or cause of anything; or one who makes a beginning. It is rendered in Act_3:15; Act_5:31, “Prince”; in Heb_2:10, “Captain”; and in the place before us, “Author.”
It does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. The phrase “the beginner of faith,” or the leader on of faith, would express the idea. He is at the head of all those who have furnished an example of confidence in God, for he was himself the most illustrious instance of it. The expression, then, does not mean properly that he produces faith in us, or that we believe because he causes us to believe – whatever may be the truth about that – but that he stands at the head as the most eminent example that can be referred to on the subject of faith. We are exhorted to look to him, as if at the Grecian games there was one who stood before the racer who had previously carried away every palm of victory; who had always been triumphant, and with whom there was no one who could be compared. The word “finisher” – τελειωτὴν teleiōtēn – corresponds in meaning with the word “author.” It means that he is the completer as well as the beginner; the last as well as the first.
As there has been no one hitherto who could be compared with him, so there will be no one hereafter; compare Rev_1:8, Rev_1:11. “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, the first and the last.” The word does not mean that he was the “finisher” of faith in the sense that he makes our faith complete or perfects it – whatever may be true about that – but that he occupies this elevated position of being beyond comparison above all others. Alike in the commencement and the close, in the beginning of faith, and in its ending, he stands pre-eminent. To this illustrious model we should look – as a racer would on one who had been always so successful that he surpassed all competitors and rivals. If this be the meaning, then it is not properly explained, as it is commonly (see Bloomfield and Stuart in loc.), by saying that the word here is synonymous with “rewarder,” and refers to the βραβευτὴς brabeutēs – or the distributor of the prize; compare notes on Col_3:15, There is no instance where the word is used in this sense in the New Testament (compare Passow), nor would such an interpretation present so beautiful and appropriate a thought as the one suggested above.
Who for the joy that was set before him – That is, who in view of all the honor which he would have at the right hand of God, and the happiness which he would experience from the consciousness that he had redeemed a world, was willing to bear the sorrows connected with the atonement.
Endured the cross – Endured patiently the ignominy and pain connected with the suffering of death on the cross.
Despising the shame – Disregarding the ignominy of such a mode of death. It is difficult for us now to realize the force of the expression, “enduring the shame of the cross,” as it was understood in the time of the Saviour and the apostles. The views of the world have changed, and it is now difficult to divest the “cross” of the associations of honor and glory which the word suggests, so as to appreciate the ideas which encompassed it then. There is a degree of dishonor which we attach to the guillotine, but the ignominy of a death on the cross was greater than that; there is disgrace attached to the block, but the ignominy of the cross was greater than that; there is a much deeper infamy attached to the gallows, but the ignominy of the cross was greater than that. And that word – the cross – which when now proclaimed in the ears of the refined, the intelligent, and even the frivolous, excites an idea of honor, in the ears of the people of Athens, of Corinth, and of Rome, excited deeper disgust than the word “gallows” does with us – for it was regarded as the appropriate punishment of the most infamous of mankind.
We can now scarcely appreciate these feelings, and of course the declaration that Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame,” does not make the impression on our minds in regard to the nature of his sufferings, and the value of his example, which it should do. When we now think of the “cross,” it is not of the multitude of slaves, and robbers, and thieves, and rebels, who have died on it, but of the one great Victim, whose death has ennobled even this instrument of torture, and encircled it with a halo of glory. We have been accustomed to read of it as an imperial standard in war in the days of Constantine, and as the banner under which armies have marched to conquest; it is intermingled with the sweetest poetry; it is a sacred thing in the most magnificent cathedrals; it adorns the altar, and is even an object of adoration; it is in the most elegant engravings; it is worn by beauty and piety as an ornament near the heart; it is associated with all that is pure in love, great in self-sacrifice, and holy in religion. To see the true force of the expression here, therefore, it is necessary to divest ourselves of these ideas of glory which encircle the “cross,” and to place ourselves in the times and lands in which, when the most infamous of mankind were stretched upon it, it was regarded for such people as an appropriate mode of punishment. That infamy Jesus was willing to bear, and the strength of his confidence in God, his love for man, and the depth of his humiliation, was shown in the readiness and firmness with which he went forward to such a death.
And is set down at the right hand of the throne of God – Exalted to the highest place of dignity and honor in the universe; Mar_16:19 note; Eph_1:20-22 notes. The sentiment here is, “Imitate the example of the great Author of our religion. He, in view of the honor and joy before him, endured the most severe sufferings to which the human frame can be subjected, and the form of death which is regarded as the most shameful. So amidst all the severe trials to which you are exposed on account of religion, patiently endure all – for the glorious rewards, the happiness and the triumph of heaven, are before you.”
consider] Lit., “compare yourselves with.” Contrast the comparative immunity from anguish of your lot with the agony of His (Joh_15:20).
that endured …] Who hath endured at the hand of sinners such opposition.
such contradiction of sinners against himself] The Greek word for “contradiction” has already occurred in Heb_6:16, Heb_7:7. Three uncials (א, D, E) read “against themselves.” Christ was a mark for incessant “contradiction,”—”a sign which is spoken against” (Luk_2:34).
lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds] The correction of the R. V., “that ye wax not weary, fainting in your souls,” will be reckoned by careless and prejudiced readers among the changes which they regard as meaningless. Yet, as in hundreds of other instances, it brings out much more fully and forcibly the exact meaning of the original. “That ye wax not weary” is substituted for “lest ye be weary” because the Greek verb, being in the aorist, suggests a sudden or momentary break-down in endurance; on the other hand, “fainting” is in the present, and suggests the gradual relaxation of nerve and energy which culminates in the sudden relapse. Lastly the word in the original is “souls,” not “minds.” Endurance was one of the most needful Christian virtues in times of waiting and of trial (Gal_6:9).
For consider him – Attentively reflect on his example that you may be able to bear your trials in a proper manner.
That endured such contradiction of sinners – Such opposition. The reference is to the Jews of the time of the Saviour, who opposed his plans, perverted his sayings, and ridiculed his claims. Yet, regardless of their opposition, he persevered in the course which he had marked out, and went patiently forward in the execution of his plans. The idea is, that we are to pursue the path of duty and follow the dictates of conscience, let the world say what they will about it. In doing this we cannot find a better example than the Saviour. No opposition of sinners ever turned him from the way which he regarded as right; no ridicule ever caused him to abandon any of his plans; no argument, or expression of scorn, ever caused him for a moment to deviate from his course.
Lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds – The meaning is, that there is great danger of being disheartened and wearied out by the opposition which you meet with. But with the bright example of one who was never disheartened, and who never became weary in doing the will of God, you may persevere. The best means of leading a faithful Christian life amidst the opposition which we may encounter, is to keep the eye steadily fixed on the Saviour.
4–13. Fatherly chastisements should be cheerfully endured
4. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood] If this be a metaphor drawn from pugilism, as the last is from “running a race,” it means that as yet they have not “had blood drawn.” This would not be impossible, for St Paul adopts pugilistic metaphors (1Co_9:26-27). More probably however the meaning is that, severe as had been the persecutions which they had undergone (Heb_10:32-33), they had not yet—and perhaps a shade of reproach is involved in the expression—resisted up to the point of martyrdom (Rev_12:11). The Church addressed can scarcely therefore have been either the Church of Rome, which had before this time furnished “a great multitude” of martyrs (Tac. Ann. xv. 44; Rev_7:9), or the Church of Jerusalem, in which, beside the martyrdoms of St Stephen, St James the elder, and St James the Lord’s brother, some had certainly been put to death in the persecution of Saul (Act_8:1).
striving against sin] “in your struggles against sin.” Some from this expression give a more general meaning to the clause—”You have not yet put forth your utmost efforts in your moral warfare.”
Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin – The general sense of this passage is, “you have not yet been called in your Christian struggles to the highest kind of sufferings and sacrifices. Great as your trials may seem to have been, yet your faith has not yet been put to the severest test. And since this is so, you ought not to yield in the conflict with evil, but manfully resist it.” In the language used here there is undoubtedly a continuance of the allusion to the agonistic games – the strugglings and wrestlings for mastery there. In those games, the boxers were accustomed to arm themselves for the fight with the caestus. This at first consisted of strong leathern thongs wound around the hands, and extending only to the wrist, to give greater solidity to the fist. Afterward these were made to extend to the elbow, and then to the shoulder, and finally, they sewed pieces of lead or iron in them that they might strike a heavier and more destructive blow. The consequence was, that those who were engaged in the fight were often covered with blood, and that resistance “unto blood” showed a determined courage, and a purpose not to yield. But though the language here may be taken from this custom, the fact to which the apostle alludes, it seems to me, is the struggling of the Saviour in the garden of Gethsemane, when his conflict was so severe that, great drops of blood fell down to the ground see the notes on Mat_26:36-44. It is, indeed, commonly understood to mean that they had not yet been called to shed their blood as martyrs in the cause of religion; see Stuart Bloomfield, Doddridge, Clarke, Whitby, Kuinoel, etc. Indeed, I find in none of the commentators what seems to me to be the true sense of this passage, and what gives an exquisite beauty to it, the allusion to the sufferings of the Saviour in the garden. The reasons which lead me to believe that there is such an allusion, are briefly these:
(1) The connection. The apostle is appealing to the example of the Saviour, and urging Christians to persevere amidst their trials by looking to him. Nothing would be more natural in this connection, than to refer to that dark night, when in the severest conflict with temptation which he ever encountered. he so signally showed his own firmness of purpose, and the effects of resistance on his own bleeding body, and his signal victory – in the garden of Gethsemane.
(2) The expression “striving against sin” seems to demand the same interpretation. On the common interpretation, the allusion would be merely to their resisting persecution; but here the allusion is to some struggle in their minds against “committing sin.” The apostle exhorts them to strive manfully and perseveringly against; sin in every form, and especially against the sin of apostasy. To encourage them he refers them to the highest instance on record where there was a “striving against sin” – the struggle of the Redeemer in the garden with the great enemy who there made his most violent assault, and where the resistance of the Redeemer was so great as to force the blood through his pores. What was the exact form of the temptation there, we are not informed. It may have been to induce him to abandon his work even then and to yield, in view of the severe sufferings of his approaching death on the cross.
If there ever was a point where temptation would be powerful, it would be there. When a man is about to be put to death, how strong is the inducement to abandon his purpose, his plans, or his principles, if he may save his life! How many, of feeble virtue, have yielded just there! If to this consideration we add the thought that the Redeemer was engaged in a work never before undertaken; that he designed to make an atonement never before made; that he was about to endure sorrows never before endured; and that on the decision of that moment depended the ascendency of sin or holiness on the earth, the triumph or the fall of Satan’s kingdom, the success or the defeat of all the plans of the great adversary of God and man, and that, on such an occasion as this, the tempter would use all his power to crush the lonely and unprotected man of sorrows in the garden of Gethsemane, it is easy to imagine what may have been the terror of that fearful conflict, and what virtue it would require in him to resist the concentrated energy of Satan’s might to induce him even then to abandon his work. The apostle says of those to whom he wrote, that they had not yet reached that point; compare notes on Heb_5:7.
(3) This view furnishes a proper climax to the argument of the apostle for perseverance. It presents the Redeemer before the mind as the great example; directs the mind to him in various scenes of his life – as looking to the joy before him – disregarding the ignominy of his sufferings – enduring the opposition of sinners – and then in the garden as engaged in a conflict with his great foe, and so resisting sin that rather than yield he endured that fearful mental struggle which was attended with such remarkable consequences. This is the highest consideration which could be presented to the mind of a believer to keep him from yielding in the conflict with evil; and if we could keep him in the eye resisting even unto blood rather than yield in the least degree, it would do more than all other things to restrain us from sin. How different his case from ours! How readily we yield to sin! We offer a faint and feeble resistance, and then surrender. We think it will be unknown: or that others do it; or that we may repent of it; or that we have no power to resist it; or that it is of little consequence, and our resolution gives way. Not so the Redeemer, Rather than yield in any form to sin, he measured strength with the great adversary when alone with him in the darkness of the night, and gloriously triumphed! And so would we always triumph if we had the same settled purpose to resist sin in every form even unto blood.
And ye have forgotten the exhortation – This exhortation is found in Pro_3:11-12. The object of the apostle in introducing it here is, to show that afflictions were designed on the part of God to produce some happy effects in the lives of his people, and that they ought, therefore, to bear them patiently. In the previous verses, he directs them to the example of the Saviour. In this verse and the following, for the same object he directs their attention to the design of trials, showing that they are necessary to our welfare, and that they are in fact proof of the paternal care of God. This verse might be rendered as a question. “And have ye forgotten?” etc. This mode of rendering it will agree somewhat better with the design of the apostle.
Which speaketh, unto you – Which may be regarded as addressed to you; or which involves a principle as applicable to you as to others. He does not mean that when Solomon used the words, he had reference to them particularly, but that he used them with reference to the children of God, and they might therefore be applied to them. in this way we may regard the language of the Scriptures as addressed to us.
As unto children – As if he were addressing children. The language is such as a father uses.
My son – It is possible that in these words Solomon may have intended to address a son literally, giving him paternal counsel; or he may have spoken as the Head of the Jewish people, designing to address all the pious, to whom he sustained, as it were, the relation of a father. Or, it is possible also, that it may be regarded as the language of God himself addressing his children. Whichever supposition is adopted, the sense is substantially the same.
Despise not thou the chastening of the Lord – Literally, “Do not regard it as a small matter, or as a trivial thing – ὀλιγω ́ ρει oligōrei. The Greek word used here does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. The word rendered here “chastening” – παιδεία paideia – and also in Heb_12:6-8, and in Heb_12:9, “corrected” – παιδευτὰς paideutas – does not refer to affliction in general, but that kind of affliction which is designed to correct us for our faults, or which is of the nature of discipline. The verb properly relates to the training up of a child – including instruction, counsel, discipline, and correction (see this use of the verb in Act_7:22; 2Ti_2:25; Tit_2:12), and then especially discipline or correction for faults – to “correct, chastise, chasten;” 1Co_11:32; 2Co_6:9; Rev_3:19. This is the meaning here; and the idea is, not that God will afflict his people in general, but that if they wander away he will correct them for their faults. He will bring calamity upon them as a punishment for their offences, and in order to bring them back to himself. He will not suffer them to wander away unrebuked and unchecked, but will mercifully reclaim them though by great sufferings. Afflictions have many objects, or produce many happy effects. That referred to here is, that they are means of reclaiming the wandering and erring children of God, and are proofs of his paternal care and love; compare 2Sa_7:14; 2Sa_12:13-14; Psa_89:31-34; Pro_3:11-12. Afflictions, which are always sent by God, should not be regarded as small matters, for these reasons:
(1) The fact that they are sent by God. Whatever he does is of importance, and is worthy of the profound attention of people.
(2) They are sent for some important purpose, and they should be regarded, therefore, with attentive concern.
Men “despise” them when:
(1) They treat them with affected or real unconcern;
(2) When they fail to receive them as divine admonitions, and regard them as without any intelligent design; and,
(3) When they receive them with “expressions” of contempt, and speak of them and of the government of God with scorn.
It should be a matter of deep concern when we are afflicted in any manner, not to treat the matter lightly, but to derive from our trials all the lessons which they are adapted to produce on the mind.
Nor faint … – Bear up patiently under them. This is the second duty. We are first to study their character and design; and secondly, to bear up under them, however severe they may be, and however long they may be continued. “Avoid the extremes of proud insensibility and entire dejection” – Doddridge.
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth – This is also a quotation from Proverbs 3. It means that it is a universal rule that God sends trials on those whom he truly loves. It does not, of course, mean that he sends chastisement which is not deserved; or that he sends it “for the mere purpose” of inflicting pain. That cannot be. But it means that by his chastisements he shows that he has a paternal care for us. He does not treat us with neglect and unconcern, as a father often does his illegitimate child. The very fact that he corrects us shows that he has toward us a father’s feelings, and exercises toward us a paternal care. If he did not, he would let us go on without any attention, and leave us to pursue a course of sin that would involve us in ruin. To restrain and govern a child; to correct him when he errs, shows that there is a parental solicitude for him, and that he is not an outcast. And as there is in the life of every child of God something that deserves correction, it happens that it is universally true that “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.”
And scourgeth every son whom he receiveth – Whom he receives or acknowledges as his child. This is not quoted literally from the Hebrew, but from the Septuagint. The Hebrew is, “even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.” The general sense of the passage is retained, as is often the case in the quotations from the Old Testament. The meaning is the same as in the former part of the verse, that every one who becomes a child of God is treated by him with that watchful care which shows that he sustains toward him the paternal relation.
If ye endure chastening – That is, if you undergo, or are called to experience correction. It does not mean here, “if you endure it patiently; or if you bear up under it;” but “if you are chastised or corrected by God.” The affirmation does not relate to the manner of bearing it, but to the fact that we are disciplined.
God dealeth with you as with sons – He does not cast you off and regard you as if you were in no way related to him.
For what son is he whom the father chasteneth not – That is, he evinces toward his son the care which shows that he sustains the relation of a father. If he deserves correction, he corrects him; and he aims by all proper means to exhibit the appropriate care and character of a father. And as we receive such attention from an earthly parent, we ought to expect to receive similar notice from our Father in heaven.