CHRIST IS SUPERIOR TO MOSES
A Summary of Hebrews 3:1-6
Here we have the second great argument in proof of the Apostle’s thesis. We must bear in mind that his thesis is the superiority of the New Dispensation to the Old. The argument to prove this in the two preceding Chapters was the superiority of Christ, through whom the New Law was given, to the angels, who were the mediators in the giving of the Old Law (see Heb 1:4-14). In these opening verses of the present Chapter the argument is that Christ is superior to Moses, the founder of the theocracy, who delivered to the people of Israel the Law received on Sinai,
Since Christ has been proved superior to the angels, it might seem unnecessary to prove that He is superior to Moses; that conclusion ought to follow as an a fortiori inference. But it was not so to the Jewish mind, which regarded Moses above the angels; for the Jews thought that through Moses they had received God’s final and complete revelation to mankind. It was, therefore, necessary to prove to them that Christ had a greater authority than Moses enjoyed.
1. Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly vocation, consider the apostle and high priest of our confession, Jesus;
2. Who is faithful to him that made him, as was also Moses in all his house.
Wherefore, i.e., since Christ has our human nature and is our great high priest, full of mercy and compassion for our sufferings and miseries, the writer invites his readers to fix their eyes on Jesus, who is God’s messenger to us and our mediator with God, and who, like Moses, was faithful in fulfilling all His duties. The deduction here is an inference from what has been said in the
two previous Chapters.
Holy brethren is a form of address peculiar to this Epistle, but see Rom 1:7; Eph 1:1 ff.; Acts 9:13.
Partakers, etc., i.e., sharers in the faith and grace of Jesus Christ.
Of our confession, i.e., of the faith we profess.
Who is faithful. The readers of this Epistle who were tempted to disloyalty are to keep in view as their model the loyalty to Jesus, “who was faithful to Him that made Him,” i.e., who was loyal to God who invested Him with the high offices of “apostle,” in preaching God’s revelation to the world, and of “high priest,” to oflfer up an atoning sacrifice for mankind.
As was also Moses in all his house, i.e., as Moses was faithful in teaching and governing the people of Israel (Deut 4:5; Ex 40:16; Num 12:7), who were called the house of God, as in verse 6 below the Christian society is called the family of Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Tim 3:15; Eph 2:21; 1 Peter 4:17, where the Christian community is spoken of as the house of God). It is to be noted that Christ’s superiority as regards God’s people is far greater than that of Moses; for Moses was faithful in all the house of God as a servant (ver. 5), whereas Christ was faithful over the whole house of God as the son in his own house (ver. 6).
3. For this man was counted worthy of greater glory than Moses, by so much as he that hath built the house hath greater honor than the house.
4. For every house is built by some man; but he that created all things is God.
For goes back to “consider” of verse 1.
This man, i.e., Jesus. The Apostle’s first argument here Is as follows: Moses was only a part of God’s house, that is, of the House of Israel in its covenant relation, though he was indeed a principal part as being God’s direct representative and administrator in the whole theocratic family; but Jesus Christ was the builder, that is, the creator and establisher of the whole family of God including Moses, and is consequently deserving of so much greater honor than Moses as the architect is far superior to the thing he has made.
Hath built. The Greek verb means not only to build, but to furnish and establish.
Every house is built by some man, etc. In Chapter 1 Jesus was described as the creator of the world; here He is spoken of as the builder of the family or community of God. God has made the Church, as He made the universe, through Christ. In this family of God Moses was but the chief administrator of the orders and sovereign will of Jesus Christ.
5. And Moses indeed was faithful in all his house as a servant, for a
testimony of those things which were to be said;
6. But Christ as Son over his house: which house we are, if we hold
firm to the end our confidence and the boasting of our hope.
The second argument here is this: Moses was only a servant in the family of God; Christ was the Son of God in that family, and as such heir and master of it.
His house in both verses means God’s house, which is the Church. There is continuity and identity, along with development, in God’s house both under the Old and under the New Covenant; the Jewish Church was the type, the Christian Church is the antitype of the same divine establishment.
For a testimony of those things, etc. There are two explanations of this passage: (a) it was the duty of Moses as a servant to make known to the people of Israel all of God’s messages to him; (b) the Mosaic legislation and the ceremonies instituted by him pointed to Christ and were a preparation for Christ and the Gospel, and through them, therefore, Moses bore testimony to Christ.
Which house we are, etc. These are familiar Pauline words (cf. 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21-22). The writer here warns his readers who were in danger of relapse that membership in the house and family of God and the enjoyment of its privileges are dependent on our perseverance in unshaken confidence in the profession of our faith and in the firm hope of future rewards to the end of our lives.
Boasting of our hope (a peculiarly Pauline expression), i.e., a boasting that arises from strong hope.
In the Vulgate of verse 6 sua should be eius, referring to God; and sumus nos should be reversed.
EXHORTATION TO PERSEVERANCE IN FAITH
A Summary of Hebrews 3:7-19
Again, as in Chapter 2:1-4, the writer interrupts his argument to make a practical appeal to his readers (which extends from Heb 3:7-4:13) to continue firm in their faith, lest they incur a fate similar to that which befell the Israelites of old. Through their unbelief the Israelites of the desert were excluded from entrance into the Promised Land and condemned to die there in their wanderings; they never attained their destined repose in the place which God had prepared for them and wanted them to have, had they remained faithful. In like manner, if Christians lose their faith, they will never know the joy and repose of heaven to which they have been called and of which the Promised Land of Palestine was a type and figure.
Heb 3:7. Wherefore, as the Holy Ghost saith : Today if you shall hear his voice,
Wherefore. All that follows this word, down to verse 12, is a long parenthesis containing the text of the Psalm ; and hence this conjunction does not find its dependent verb till verse 12. The connection is as follows: Since no one can belong to the house and family of God unless he remains firm in faith and hope, it is necessary, according to the counsel given in Psalm 95 to the people of Israel, that you Christian brethren should take heed lest
any of you abandon the faith you have received.
As the Holy Ghost saith is a regular formula to introduce an inspired Scripture, of which the Holy Ghost is the primary author.
Today is emphatic by its position and means the acceptable time of salvation.
Heb 3:8. Harden not your hearts, as at the provocation, in the day of temptation in the desert,
Harden not your hearts, etc., i.e., do not be stubborn and resist the grace of God appealing to your hearts, as you did at Meribah, the place of strife, and as at Massah, the day of trial, in the desert. In the original Hebrew of the Psalm “provocation” and “temptation” are names of places, Meribah and Massah. At the time in question the Israelites were suffering for want of water
in the desert, and they murmured against Moses (Meribah) and tempted God by doubting His providence and His goodness (Massah). See Ex 17:1-7 and Num 20:1-13, where these facts are narrated.
Heb 3:9. Where your fathers tempted me with tests and saw my works
In this verse God begins to speak to the Israelites in the first person, recalling to their minds how their faithless forefathers “tempted,” i.e., put Him to trial by doubting His power and goodness to help them, though they had been witnesses of His miracles in their behalf for forty years.
Heb 3:10. Forty years: For which cause I was offended with this generation, and I said: They always err in heart. And they have not known my ways,
Forty years. In the Hebrew text these words are joined to the preceding verse, but in the LXX and St. Jerome they are connected with what follows, meaning that for forty years the Lord was “offended with this generation,” i.e., with the faithless people in the desert. As a matter of fact, all during their wanderings in the wilderness the Israelites had grieved the Lord by their doubts. Their hearts were perverse, and they paid no heed to God’s “ways,” i.e., to His precepts, transgressing them at will and in all manners.
Heb 3:11. So I have sworn in my wrath: If they shall enter into my rest.
As a result of their lack of faith, God took a solemn oath that the Israehtes of the desert should all die in their wanderings with the exception of Josue and Caleb, as narrated in Num 14:27 ff., 32:10 ff.; Deut 1:34.
If they shall enter is a Hebrew idiom meaning, “they shall not enter.”
My rest, i.e., the place of repose promised and prepared for them, which in the literal sense was the land of Canaan that the Hebrews were to occupy and enjoy after the fatigue and wanderings of the desert; but in the spiritual sense here applied, “my rest” means celestial beatitude, the eternal Sabbath of heaven, as explained below, in Heb 4:1-4.
Heb 3:12. Take heed, brethren, lest perhaps there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, to depart from the living God.
The writer now applies the foregoing Psalm verses to his readers (ver. 12-14), warning them in this verse of the danger of apostasy, which, like all personal moral evil, begins in the heart.
Heb 3:13. But exhort one another every day, whilst it is called today, that none of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
The Apostle exhorts his readers to give mutual encouragement to one another by word and example constantly throughout their lives, while they have the opportunity: “Whilst you have the light, believe in the light, etc.” (John 12:36; cf. Luke 19:44).
The deceitfulness of sin. Sin is always a delusion, promising pleasure and satisfaction but leading to sorrow and pain; luring to happiness but terminating in grief. The sin directly in question here is that of unbelief and apostasy, against which the writer is warning.
Heb 3:14. For we are made partakers of Christ; yet so, if we hold the beginning of our substance firm unto the end.
By the faith and grace of Christ to which we have been admitted through Baptism we have become incorporated into Christ, thus partaking of His life and blessings now, with the hope and promise of a fuller share in His divine life hereafter in the world to come; but this is only on condition that we retain unshaken to the end of our lives the foundation of all these present and future graces and benefits, namely, our Christian faith.
If we hold the beginning, etc., i.e., if we hold fast to the faith of which we made profession at the time of our conversion.
Substance is a literal translation of the Greek word here used, at least in its later meaning; but according to the sense of the present passage it would probably be rendered better by “confidence.”
15. While it is said, Today if yuu shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as at the provocation.
16. For some who had heard did provoke; but not all that came out of Egypt by Moses.
In verses 15-19 we have an explanation of the Psalm passage quoted above in verses 7-1 1. The author tells us who those people were with whom God was angry; they were the people of Israel whom Moses had led out of Egyptian bondage, but whose bones were left bleaching in the wilderness on account of their sins of unbelief.
While it is said. Better, “when it is said.” We shall understand these two verses much better if we take them as going together, putting a comma at the end of verse 15, and, with most modern commentators, make verse 16 consist of two interrogations as follows: “Who were they who heard (the voice of God), and provoked (him) ? Were they not all those who were led out of
Egypt by Moses?” Of the 600,000 Israelites that were led out of Egypt, only Josue and Caleb remained faithful and were permitted to enter the Promised Land (Num 14:38; Josh 14:8-9).
17. And with whom was he offended forty years? Was it not with them that sinned, whose carcasses were overthrown in the desert?
Those Israelites who sinned by unbelief in the desert perished there in the wilderness, and their corpses were left to rot in the sun. See Num 14:29, with which compare 1 Cor 10:5, 8.
18. And to whom did he swear, that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that were incredulous?
Incredulous, better, “disobedient.” The Israelites were not only unbelieving, but disobedient ; and for these sins they were excluded from the land which God had promised them (Ex 16, 17; Num 14, 21).
19. And we see that they could not enter in, because of unbelief.
We see, etc., i.e., we know from history. They tried to enter the Promised Land, but the favor of God was not with them and all the adults failed and perished in the desert, except Josue and Caleb (Num. xiv. 28-5).