Let brotherly love continue] Not only was “brotherly love” (Philadelphia) a new and hitherto almost undreamed of virtue but it was peculiarly necessary among the members of a bitterly-persecuted sect. Hence all the Apostles lay constant stress upon it (Rom_12:10; 1Th_4:9; 1Pe_1:22; 1Jn_3:14-18, &c.). It was a special form of the more universal “Love” (Ἀγάπη), and our Lord had said that by it the world should recognise that Christians were His disciples (Joh_13:35). How entirely this prophecy was fulfilled we see alike from the fervid descriptions of tertullian, from the mocking admissions of Lucian in his curious and interesting tract “on the death of Peregrinus,” and from the remark of the Emperor Julian (Ep. 49), that their “kindness towards strangers” had been a chief means of propagating their “atheism.” But brotherly-love in the limits of a narrow community is often imperilled by the self-satisfaction of an egotistic and dogmatic orthodoxy, shewing itself in party rivalries. This may have been the case among these Hebrews as among the Corinthians; and the neglect by some of the gatherings for Christian worship (Heb_10:25) may have tended to deepen the sense of disunion. The disunion however was only incipient, for the writer has already borne testimony to the kindness which prevailed among them (Heb_6:10, Heb_10:32-33).
to entertain strangers] The hospitality of Christians (what Julian calls ἡ περὶ ξένους φιλανθρωπία) was naturally exercised chiefly towards the brethren. The absence of places of public entertainment except in the larger towns, and the constant interchange of letters and messages between Christian communities—a happy practice which also prevailed among the Jewish Synagogues—made “hospitality” a very necessary and blessed practice. St Peter tells Christians to be hospitable to one another ungrudgingly, and unmurmuringly, though it must sometimes have been burdensome (1Pe_4:9; comp. Rom_12:13; Tit_1:8; 1Ti_3:2). We find similar exhortations in the Talmud (Berachoth f. 63. 2; Shabbath f. 27. 1). Lucian (De Mort. Peregr. 16) and the Emperor Julian (Ep. 49) notice the unwonted kindness and hospitality of Christians.
have entertained angels unawares] Abraham (Gen_18:2-22. Lot (Gen_19:1-2). Manoah (Jdg_13:2-14). Gideon (Jdg_6:11-20). Our Lord taught that we may even entertain Him—the King of Angels—unawares. “I was a stranger, and ye took Me in” (Mat_25:35-40). There is an allusion to this “entertaining of angels” in Philo, De Abrahamo (Opp. ii. 17). The classic verb rendered “unawares” (elathon) is not found elsewhere in the N.T. in this sense, and forms a happy paronomasia with “forget not.”
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers (τῆς φιλοξενίας μὴ ἐπιλανθάνεσθε)
Lit. be not forgetful of hospitality. Φιλοξενία only here and Rom_12:13. olxx. Φιλόξενος hospitable, 1Ti_3:2; Tit_1:8; 1Pe_4:9. The rendering of Rev. to show love unto strangers, is affected. On the injunction comp. Rom_12:13; 1Ti_3:2; Tit_1:8; 1Pe_4:9, and see Clem. Rom. Ad Corinth. x., xi., xii. The virtue of hospitality is not distinctively Christian. It appears with the very beginnings of history, largely as the result of nomadic conditions. It was peculiarly an Oriental virtue. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, commendatory judgment is awarded to him who has fed the hungry and clothed the naked. The O.T. abounds in illustrations, and the practice of hospitality among the Arabs and Bedoueen is familiar through the writings of travelers in the East. Great stress was laid on the duty by the Greeks, as appears constantly in Homer and elsewhere. Hospitality was regarded as a religious duty. The stranger was held to be under the special protection of Zeus, who was called ξένιος, the God of the stranger. The Romans regarded any violation of the rites of hospitality as impiety. Cicero says: “It seems to me eminently becoming that the homes of distinguished men should be open to distinguished guests, and that it is an honor to the Republic that foreigners should not lack this kind of liberality in our city” (De Off. ii. 18).
Have entertained angels unawares (ἔλαθο ́ν τινες ξεσίσαντες ἀγγε ́ λους)
The Greek idiom is, “were not apparent as entertaining angels.” The verb ἔλαθον were concealed represents the adverb unawares. For similar instances see Mar_14:8; Act_12:16; Aristoph. Wasps, 517; Hdt. i. 44; Hom. Il. xiii. 273. Ξενίζειν to receive as a guest, mostly in Acts. In lxx only in the apocryphal books. In later Greek, to surprise with a novelty; passive, to be surprised or shocked. So 1Pe_4:4, 1Pe_4:12; comp. 2 Ep. of Clem. of Rome (so called), xvii.: To be a stranger or to be strange, once in N.T., Act_17:20. Ξενισμός amazement, perplexity, not in N.T. lxx, Pro_15:17. Comp. Ignatius, Eph. xix. The allusion to the unconscious entertainment of angels is probably to Genesis 18, 19, but the idea was familiar in Greek literature. The Greeks thought that any stranger might be a God in disguise. See Hom. Od. i. 96 ff.; iii. 329-370; xvii. 485. Comp. also the beautiful story of Baucis and Philemon as related by Ovid (Metam. viii. 626-724). The thought appears in our Lord’s words, Mat_25:34-46.
Remember them that are in bonds] Comp. Col_4:18.
as bound with them] Lit., “as having been bound with them.” In the perfectness of sympathy their bonds are your bonds (1Co_12:26), for you and they alike are Christ’s Slaves (1Co_7:22) and Christ’s Captives (2Co_2:14 in the Greek). Lucian’s tract (referred to in the previous note) dwells on the effusive kindness of Christians to their brethren who were imprisoned as confessors.
as being yourselves also in the body] And therefore as being yourselves liable to similar maltreatment. “In the body” does not mean “in the body of the Church,” but “human beings, born to suffer.” You must therefore “weep with them that weep” (Rom_12:15). The expressions of the verse (κακουχουμένων, ὡς καὶ αὐτοὶ ὄντες ἐν σώματι read like a reminiscence of Philo (De Spec. Legg. § 30) who says ὡς ἐν τοῖς ἑτέρων σώμασιν αὐτοὶ κακούμενοι “as being yourselves also afflicted in the bodies of others;” but if so the reminiscence is only verbal, and the application more simple. Incidentally the verse shews how much the Christians of that day were called upon to endure.
Remember them that are in bonds – All who are “bound;” whether prisoners of war; captives in dungeons; those detained in custody for trial; those who are imprisoned for righteousness’ sake, or those held in slavery. The word used here will include all instances where “bonds, shackles, chains were ever used.” Perhaps there is an immediate allusion to their fellow-Christians who were suffering imprisonment on account of their religion, of whom there were doubtless many at that time, but the “principle” will apply to every case of those who are imprisoned or oppressed. The word “remember” implies more than that we are merely to “think” of them; compare Exo_20:8; Ecc_12:1. It means that we are to remember them “with appropriate sympathy;” or as we should wish others to remember us if we were in their circumstances. That is, we are
(1) To feel deep compassion for them;
(2) We are to remember them in our prayers;
(3) We are to remember them, as far as practicable, with aid for their relief.
Christianity teaches us to sympathize with all the oppressed, the suffering, and the sad; and there are more of this class than we commonly suppose, and they have stronger claims on our sympathy than we commonly realize. In America there are not far from ten thousand confined in prison – the father separated from his children; the husband from his wife; the brother from his sister; and all cut off from the living world. Their fare is coarse, and their couches hard, and the ties which bound them to the living world are rudely snapped asunder. Many of them are in solitary dungeons; all of them are sad and melancholy men. True, they are there for crime; but they are men – they are our brothers. They have still the feelings of our common humanity, and many of them feel their separation from wife, and children, and home, as keenly as we would.
That God who has mercifully made our lot different from theirs, has commanded us to sympathize with them – and we should sympathize all the more when we remember that but for his restraining grace we should have been in the same condition. There are in this land of “liberty” also nearly three millions who are held in the hard bondage of slavery. There is the father, the mother, the child, the brother, the sister. They are held as property; liable to be sold; having no right to the avails of their own labor; exposed to the danger of having the tenderest ties sundered at the will of their master; shut out from the privilege of reading the Word of God; fed on coarse fare; living in wretched hovels; and often subjected to the painful inflictions of the lash at the caprice of a passionate driver. Wives and daughters are made the victims of degrading sensuality without the power of resistance or redress; the security of home is unknown; and they are dependent on the will of another man whether they shall or shall not worship their Creator. We should remember them, and sympathize with them as if they were our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, or sons and daughters.
Though of different colour, yet the same blood flows in their veins as in ours Act_17:26; they are bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. By nature they have the same right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” which we and our children have, and to deprive them of that right is as unjust as it would be to deprive us and ours of it. They have a claim on our sympathy, for they are our brethren. They need it, for they are poor and helpless. They should have it, for the same God who has kept us from that hard lot has commanded us to remember them. That kind remembrance of them should be shown in every practicable way. By prayer; by plans contemplating their freedom; by efforts to send them the gospel; by diffusing abroad the principles of liberty and of the rights of man, by using our influence to arouse the public mind in their behalf, we should endeavor to relieve those who are in bonds, and to hasten the time when “the oppressed shall go free.” On this subject, see the notes on Isa_58:6.
As bound with them – There is great force and beauty in this expression. Religion teaches us to identify ourselves with all who are oppressed, and to feel what they suffer as if we endured it ourselves. Infidelity and atheism are cold and distant. They stand aloof from the oppressed and the sad. But Christianity unites all hearts in one; binds us to all the race, and reveals to us in the case of each one oppressed and injured, a brother.
And them which suffer adversity – The word used here refers properly to those who are maltreated, or who are injured by others. It does not properly refer to those who merely experience calamity.
As being ourselves also in the body – As being yourselves exposed to persecution and suffering, and liable to be injured. That is, do to them as you would wish them to do to you if you were the sufferer. When we see an oppressed and injured man, we should remember that it is possible that we may be in the same circumstances, and that then we shall need and desire the sympathy of others.
Marriage is honourable in all] More probably this is an exhortation, “Let marriage be held honourable among all,” or rather “in all respects,” as in Heb_13:18. Scripture never gives even the most incidental sanction to the exaltation of celibacy as a superior virtue, or to the disparagement of marriage as an inferior state. Celibacy and marriage stand on an exactly equal level of honour according as God has called us to the one or the other state. The mediæval glorification of Monachism sprang partly from a religion of exaggerated gloom and terror, and partly from a complete misunderstanding of the sense applied by Jewish writers to the word “Virgins.” Nothing can be clearer than the teaching on this subject alike of the Old (Gen_2:18; Gen_2:24) and of the New Covenant (Mat_19:4-6; Joh_2:1-2; 1Co_7:2). There is no “forbidding to marry” (1Ti_4:1-3) among Evangelists and Apostles. They shared the deep conviction which their nation had founded on Gen_1:27; Gen_2:18-24 and which our Lord had sanctioned (Mat_19:4-6). The warning in this verse is against unchastity. If it be aimed against a tendency to disparage the married state it would shew that the writer is addressing some Hebrews who had adopted in this matter the prejudices of the Essenes (1Ti_4:3). In any case the truth remains “Honourable is marriage in all;” it is only lawless passions which are “passions of dishonour” (Rom_1:26).
and the bed undefiled] A warning to Antinomians who made light of unchastity (Act_15:20; 1Th_4:6).
whoremongers] Christianity introduced a wholly new conception regarding the sin of fornication (Gal_5:19; Gal_5:21; 1Co_6:9-10; Eph_5:5; Col_3:5-6; Rev_22:15) which, especially in the depraved decadence of Heathenism under the Empire, was hardly regarded as any sin at all. Hence the necessity for constantly raising a warning voice against it (1Th_4:6, &c.).
God will judge] The more because they often escape altogether the judgment of man (1Sa_2:25; 2Sa_3:39).
your conversation] The word here used is not the one generally rendered by “conversation” in the N.T. (anastrophç as in Heb_13:7, “general walk” Gal_1:13; Eph_2:3, or (“citizenship” politeuma, as in Php_1:27; Php_3:20), but “turn of mind” (tropos).
without covetousness] Aphilarguros not merely without covetousness (pleonexia) but “without love of money.” It is remarkable that “covetousness” and “uncleanness” are constantly placed in juxtaposition in the N.T. (1Co_5:10; 1Co_6:9; Eph_5:3; Eph_5:5; Col_3:5).
be content] The form of the sentence “Let your turn of mind be without love of money, being content” is the same as “Let love be without pretence, hating” in Rom_12:9. The few marked similarities between this writer and St Paul only force the radical dissimilarity between their styles into greater prominence; and as the writer had almost certainly read the Epistle to the Romans a striking syntactical peculiarity like this may well have lingered in his memory.
he hath said] More literally “Himself hath said.” The “Himself” of course refers to God, and the phrase of citation is common in the Rabbis (הוא אמר). “He” and “I” are, as Delitzsch says, used by the Rabbis as mystical names of God.
I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee] These words are found (in the third person) in Deu_31:6; Deu_31:8; 1Ch_28:20, and similar promises, in the first person, in Gen_28:15; Jos_1:5; Isa_41:17. The very emphatic form of the citation (first with a double then with a triple negation) “I will in no wise fail, neither will I ever in any wise forsake thee” does not occur either in the Hebrew or the LXX., but it is found in the very same words in Philo (De Confus. Ling. § 32), and since we have had occasion to notice again and again the thorough familiarity of the writer with Philo’s works, it is probable that he derived it from Philo, unless it existed in some proverbial or liturgical form among the Jews. The triple negative οὐδ’ οὐ μὴ is found in Mat_24:21.
Let your conversation – That is, the whole tenor of your conduct, τροπος, the manner of your life, or rather the disposition of your hearts in reference to all your secular transactions; for in this sense the original is used by the best Greek writers.
Be without covetousness – Desire nothing more than what God has given you; and especially covet nothing which the Divine Providence has given to another man, for this is the very spirit of robbery.
Content with such things as ye have – Αρκουμενοι τοις παρουσιν· Being satisfied with present things. In one of the sentences of Phocylides we have a sentiment in nearly the same words as that of the apostle: Αρκεισθαι παρεουσι, και αλλοτριων απεχεσθαι· Be content with present things, and abstain from others. The covetous man is ever running out into futurity with insatiable desires after secular good; and, if this disposition be not checked, it increases as the subject of it increases in years. Covetousness is the vice of old age.
I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee – These words were, in sum, spoken to Joshua, Jos_1:5 : “As I was with Moses, so will I be with thee; I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” They were spoken also by David to Solomon, 1Ch_28:20 : “David said to Solomon his son, Be strong and of good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed; for the Lord God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” The apostle, in referring to the same promises, feels authorized to strengthen the expressions, as the Christian dispensation affords more consolation and confidence in matters of this kind than the old covenant did. The words are peculiarly emphatic: Ου μη σε ανω, ουδ’ ου μη σε εγκαταλιπω. There are no less than five negatives in this short sentence, and these connected with two verbs and one pronoun twice repeated. To give a literal translation is scarcely possible; it would run in this way: “No, I will not leave thee; no, neither will I not utterly forsake thee.” Those who understand the genius of the Greek language, and look at the manner in which these negatives are placed in the sentence, will perceive at once how much the meaning is strengthened by them, and to what an emphatic and energetic affirmative they amount.
This promise is made to those who are patiently bearing affliction or persecution for Christ’s sake; and may be applied to any faithful soul in affliction, temptation, or adversity of any kind. Trust in the Lord with thy whole heart, and never lean to thy own understanding; for he hath said, “No, I will never leave thee; not I: I will never, never cast thee off.”
So that we may boldly say – Without any hesitation or doubt, In all times of perplexity and threatening want; in all times when we scarcely know whence the supplies for our necessities are to come, we may put our trust in God, and be assured that he will not leave us to suffer. In the facts which occur under the providential dealings, there is a ground for confidence on this subject which is not always exercised even by good people. It remains yet to be shown that they who exercise simple trust in God for the supply of their wants are ever forsaken; compare Psa_37:25.
The Lord is my helper – Substantially this sentiment is found in Psa_27:1, and Psa_118:6. The apostle does not adduce it as a quotation, but as language which a true Christian may employ. The sentiment is beautiful and full of consolation. What can we fear if we have the assurance that the Lord is on our side, and that he will help us? Man can do no more to us than he permits, and of course no more than will be for our own good; and under whatever trials we may be placed, we need be under no painful apprehensions, for God will be our protector and our friend.
them which have the rule over you, who have spoken] Rather, “your leaders, who spoke to you;” for, as the next clause shews, these spiritual leaders were dead. At this time the ecclesiastical organisation was still unfixed. The vague term “leaders” (found also in Act_15:22), like the phrase “those set over you” (proistamenoi, 1Th_5:12) means “bishops” and “presbyters,” the two terms being, in the Apostolic age, practically identical. In later ecclesiastical Greek this word (ἡγούμενοι) was used for “Abbots.”
whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation] In the emphatic order of the original, “and earnestly contemplating the issue of their conversation, imitate their faith.”
the end] Not the ordinary word for “end” (telos) but the very unusual word ekbasin, “outcome.” This word in the N.T. is found only in 1Co_10:13, where it is rendered “escape.” In Wis_2:17 we find, “Let us see if his words be true, and let us see what shall happen at his end” (ἐν ἐκβάσει). It here seems to mean death, but not necessarily a death by martyrdom. It merely means “imitate them, by being faithful unto death.” The words exodos, “departure” (Luk_9:31; 2Pe_1:15) and aphixis (Act_20:29) are similar euphemisms for death.
Jesus Christ the same yesterday … – As this stands in our common translation, it conveys an idea which is not in the original. It would seem to mean that Jesus Christ, the unchangeable Saviour, was the end or aim of the conduct of those referred to, or that they lived to imitate and glorify him. But this is by no means the meaning in the original. There it stands as an absolute proposition, that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever;” that is, that he is unchangeable. The evident design of this independent proposition here is, to encourage them to persevere by showing that their Saviour was always the same; that he who had sustained his people in former times, was the same still, and would be the same forever. The argument here, therefore, for perseverance is founded on the “immutability” of the Redeemer. If he were fickle, vacillating, changing in his character and plans; if today he aids his people, and tomorrow will forsake them; if at one time he loves the virtuous, and at another equally loves the vicious; if he formed a plan yesterday which he has abandoned today; or if he is ever to be a different being from what he is now, there would be no encouragement to effort. Who would know what to depend on? Who would know what to expect tomorrow? For who could have any certainty that he could ever please a capricious or a vacillating being? Who could know how to shape his conduct if the principles of the divine administration were not always the same? At the same time, also, that this passage furnishes the strongest argument for fidelity and perseverance, it is an irrefragable proof of the divinity of the Saviour. It asserts immutability – sameness in the past, the present, and to all eternity but of whom can this be affirmed but God? It would not be possible to conceive of a declaration which would more strongly assert immutability than this.