Thursday, February 18, 2010


Hebrews 1-4

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews starts his letter by talking of the way that GOD spoke to the prophets in the past, but that now he spoke through his son, "appointed heir of all much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs." And he makes the point by identifying many scriptural references which identify and speak of Jesus in a way that no one would speak of the angels.

In chapter two, he notes that this places an obligation on us to "pay more careful that we do not drift away...How shall we escape if we ignore sucha great salvation?" The quotations continue, including the lovely passage from the 8th psalm, "what is man that you are mindful of him?" And he emphasizes the sovereignty of Jesus, as "GOD left nothing that is not subject to him." And he makes clear the understanding of Jesus as savior - "he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone." But he also emphasizes the humanity of Jesus. He was not only fully GOD, he was fully man, and shared humanity to "destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil..."

Chapter three begins with a mention of Jesus being greater than Moses. And again, he quotes the psalms (95) in warning against unbelief. "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God." He encourages his readers to encourage one another every day, and not to let them be "hardened by sin's deceitfullness." And he reminds them of the way that those led out of Egypt still rebelled in the desert and incurred the LORD's wrath for forty years, and were not able to enter the promised land "because of their unbelief."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • It was thought by some that Hebrews is a Pauline epistle but most scholars agree now that it is not. There are schools of thought suggesting Barnabas or Silas, among others, but no one knows for sure. Except one - as Origen said, "Yahweh only knows."
  • As with the authorship, the time and place of its writing are also unknown. It is, therefore, not clear under what circumstances the epistle was penned. The target audience is clear, however, as the frequent Old Testament references make it clear that it was aimed at scripture-reading Jews.
  • The angels are, as we are, creatures, made (created) and not begotten.
  • It is hard for us, but it was hard for them, too. Even the disciples, the ones that were with Jesus and saw with their own eyes the miracles, had difficulty in following his instructions. How much harder is it for us 2000 years removed? That's one of the hardest transitions of Christian faith, in my opinion. It's one thing to believe, on an intellectual level, that Jesus came and died on the cross for our sins. It's another thing entirely to actually live as if we believe it.
  • Not that there is any question, but the reference to Moses is one of the items that makes the target audience clear. For the Jews, Moses was the great prophet, and to tell them that Jesus was greater than Moses is to make a strong statement, a statement that would be weak or meaningless to a gentile, a Roman or a Greek.
  • There are fourteen Old Testament references in those three chapters, mostly from Psalms, but also from 2 Samuel, 1 Chronicles, Deuteronomy and Isaiah.

Psalms 17

The psalmist cries out for salvation, or for justice. But the most striking things about this psalm to a Christian is the way that the psalmist justifies himself before God - he calls his plea "righteous," saying that "it does not rise from deceitful lips...My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped." This is a psalm that is uncomfortable coming from Christian lips. We are more familiar and comfortable with Psalm 51 ("against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. ") The psalmist is asking for justice, where we rightly fear it.

Psalm 17
A prayer of David.
1 Hear, O LORD, my righteous plea;
listen to my cry.
Give ear to my prayer—
it does not rise from deceitful lips.

2 May my vindication come from you;
may your eyes see what is right.

3 Though you probe my heart and examine me at night,
though you test me, you will find nothing;
I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.

4 As for the deeds of men—
by the word of your lips
I have kept myself
from the ways of the violent.

5 My steps have held to your paths;
my feet have not slipped.

6 I call on you, O God, for you will answer me;
give ear to me and hear my prayer.

7 Show the wonder of your great love,
you who save by your right hand
those who take refuge in you from their foes.

8 Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings

9 from the wicked who assail me,
from my mortal enemies who surround me.

10 They close up their callous hearts,
and their mouths speak with arrogance.

11 They have tracked me down, they now surround me,
with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground.

12 They are like a lion hungry for prey,
like a great lion crouching in cover.

13 Rise up, O LORD, confront them, bring them down;
rescue me from the wicked by your sword.

14 O LORD, by your hand save me from such men,
from men of this world whose reward is in this life.
You still the hunger of those you cherish;
their sons have plenty,
and they store up wealth for their children.

15 And I—in righteousness I will see your face;
when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.

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