Studies in the Book of Hebrews—Chapter 5

The Called of God


VERSE 1  “Every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sin.”

Obedience, Divine appointment of those who serve God, and a studious application to the study and practice of the truths of the Divine plan are among the important lessons emphasized in this chapter. The high priests mentioned in this first verse are those of the Aaronic order. They were taken from among men in a very complete sense. The tribe of Levi, from which the priestly family, beginning with Aaron, was chosen, was one of the tribes of Israel. They were human beings in every particular, but they were chosen by the Lord and ordained by him to serve the nation in all matters pertaining to their relationship with God.

These priests, the apostle tells us, offered ‘both gifts and sacrifices.’ The gifts were the various thank offerings and peace offerings brought to the priests by the people, while the sacrifices for sin were more particularly the typical sacrifices which were offered on Israel’s Atonement Day. It was by virtue of these that the nation maintained its standing before God from year to year—at least in a typical sense.

VERSE 2  “Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.”

The high priests of Israel, taken from among the people, were men of like passions—that is, weak and imperfect. They were thus in a position to understand, sympathetically, the problems and failings of the people whom they served, and could, if they would, extend a measure of patient forbearance, particularly where sincere efforts were made to progress in righteousness. God exercised similar forbearance toward the whole nation in the wilderness, although finally provoked to anger against them.

VERSE 3  “By reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.”

Since the typical priests of Israel were themselves imperfect, they needed atonement for their sins as much as those to whom they ministered. On account of this, provision was made whereby they could offer sacrifices for themselves. An account of this is recorded in Leviticus 4:3-12

VERSES 4,5  “No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.”

The elect character of both the typical and antitypical priesthood is made very definite in the Bible. No one can serve God acceptably unless called, or invited, by him. The matter of who will occupy a given place in the Divine arrangement is not left for human wisdom to decide. Aaron was God’s choice to be Israel’s first High Priest. Whether or not there were others who could have served just as well was not a matter for Israel, or anyone in Israel, to decide.

Korah, his sons and others, challenged the appointment of Aaron, and the Lord arranged a demonstration in order that his choice might be clearly and definitely established. The account of this is recorded in Numbers, chapters 16 and 17. A representative of each of the twelve tribes was instructed to bring a rod to Moses. He placed these rods in the Tabernacle overnight. The understanding was that the owner of the rod which miraculously budded and brought forth almonds during the night would be the Lord’s choice. It was Aaron’s rod that budded. This clearly indicated that Aaron was indeed ‘called of God.’

Even Jesus ‘glorified’ or ‘honored’ not himself to become a High Priest. Before he was ‘made flesh’ Jesus occupied the highest position in the universe next to his Father; but unlike Lucifer, who aspired to be as the Most High, the Logos humbled himself, taking on the form of a human servant. Although he had come to earth to be the world’s great High Priest, he did not assume this position. Not until at Jordan, when he heard the Father’s voice saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” did Jesus undertake his priestly work. (Matt. 3:17) While he was the “Only Begotten of the Father” in his original creation, the begetting referred to in this verse seems to refer to the beginning of his life as a New Creature at Jordan.—John 1:14

VERSE 6  “As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.”

Having established the fact of Jesus’ Divine appointment as the High Priest prefigured by Aaron, in this verse Paul verifies Christ’s appointment, or calling, to another order of priesthood, one which applies particularly to the work of the kingdom age. The apostle does this by quoting Psalm 110:4—a prophecy in which Jehovah declares his intention that his Son should serve in this high and honored capacity. So again, it is clear that Jesus did not take this honor unto himself. Melchisedec was king of Salem in addition to being a priest of the Most High God, and his twofold office serves well to illustrate Christ’s work during the millennium.

VERSES 7,8  “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.”

There had never been any question about Jesus’ Divine appointment to the priesthood, yet it was essential that his worthiness for this high office be proved, and one of the methods chosen by the Heavenly Father to accomplish this was ‘by the things which he suffered.’

The prayers, supplications, and agony here referred to took place in Gethsemane. Jesus made no noisy outcry, else the disciples not far away would have been awakened. He bore this intense suffering alone, so far as human help was concerned. Not until he was ‘heard in that he feared’ did he receive strength which enabled him to endure calmly the physical suffering in his trial and crucifixion.

The Greek word translated feared in the above quoted passage means primarily ‘to be cautious,’ rather than to ‘dread,’ as the word fear suggests. Jesus had reached a very critical point in his earthly life and ministry, and was making sure that no missteps should be taken. Much the same thought is contained in Paul’s admonition to us: “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.”—Heb. 4:1

Paul says that Jesus was heard in that which he ‘feared,’ or in that about which he was being so ‘cautious,’ or ‘careful.’ The text also states that he was heard by One who was able to ‘save’ or deliver him from death. It would seem that the Master was concerned over the matter of his eternal existence. He knew that he was to die as man’s Redeemer, but his concern was whether he had been fully faithful, so that he could confidently expect to be raised from death.

Jesus understood the lessons taught by the typical Tabernacle, and the services the priests rendered therein. When the high priest was offering sacrifices for sin, the blood of which was carried into the Most Holy and sprinkled on the Mercy Seat, if he had not fully and correctly carried out every detail of that service as instructed by the Lord, he would die as he passed under the second veil. (Lev. 16:2,3) This would picture the Second Death. His rising alive beyond the veil pictured a resurrection from death.

So Jesus, the antitypical priest, offering himself in sacrifice instead of an animal, realized that if he had not carried out every detail of the Divine will, he would, in passing under the veil of death, fail to rise on the other side. No wonder he was concerned; and what a comfort it must have been when he was ‘heard’ and given complete assurance that his sacrifice was acceptable.

What did Jesus have in mind when he prayed, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me”? (Matt. 26:39) ‘This cup’ represented the intense mental and physical suffering which he now realized would be involved in connection with the consummation of his sacrifice. For him to suffer as a blasphemer of the God whom he loved with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength, was a terrible ordeal.

The manner of death—the horror of crucifixion with all of its long, drawn-out torture of thirst, of unbearable suffering and agony, and of fever—all of which frequently lasted for several days—would be very painful to his flesh. Could he endure this and yet remain perfectly obedient? With these thoughts flooding his mind, it is no wonder that he agonized with “strong crying and tears.”—Heb. 5:7

But there was no question in Jesus’ mind of wanting to avoid anything which was his Father’s will. If the Father’s will would allow for a less trying experience he would be glad, “Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt,” was the Master’s sincere and wholehearted desire. (Matt. 26:39) He was willing to endure, but he sorely needed some assurance that he was acceptable to his Father before entering the black darkness of death; and he needed strength to bear this awful experience.

But why did the Father withhold this assurance until Jesus had prayed in agony three times? Why was the assurance not given at once? As Jesus must pay it all, he must be tested to the utmost. Would he give up because the answer was delayed? Would he believe that his Father had forsaken him? What suffering the Father’s heart must have endured, thus to permit his beloved Son to suffer until after his third pleading, by withholding the answer which would comfort him! Does it not shame us, who complain if our burdens seem heavy, or faint if the help is long delayed!

When the testing had accomplished the intended purpose of proving the Master’s obedience, the Father sent him the assurance which he sought, and he was comforted. Then, with supreme confidence, he met all his persecutors triumphantly. Now he could not be turned aside from his course of faithfulness, although he knew what the consequences would be. As the first and only begotten Son of God, he had always been obedient, and had constantly been his Father’s delight. But now, in Gethsemane, before his accusers, and on the cross, he learned to be obedient through suffering. Truly we can have confidence in such a High Priest!

VERSE 9  “Being made perfect, he became the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”

The word ‘perfect’ used here is a translation of a Greek word meaning ‘complete.’ Its use does not imply that Jesus was ever imperfect, in the sense of being a sinner. Rather, the thought is, that his training for the priesthood had been completed, the final lesson being the excruciating suffering through which he passed.

Because he was obedient, he became the Author of eternal salvation to all who obey him. Obedience is a basic requirement in all who will have eternal life on any plane. The whole world of mankind lost life through the disobedience of our first parents. How logical that the One who redeemed Adam and his race from death should prove his worthiness by obedience, and how appropriate that all who reap the benefit of his ransom sacrifice should do so only upon the basis of their obedience! This lesson of obedience must be learned by all Jesus’ followers, although not necessarily through such severe tests as came upon the Master.

VERSES 10,11  “Called of God an High Priest after the order of Melchisedec. Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.”

The Jews, on the whole, seem almost completely to have overlooked, or to have forgotten, the special order of priesthood of which Melchisedec was a type, although they must have known about him, and that Abraham paid tithes to him. Jehovah foretold that the Messiah would be the antitype of Melchisedec, so it was only because the Jewish Christians to whom Paul wrote were ‘dull of hearing’ that they did not know about it.—Ps. 110:4

Later in his epistle Paul reveals further lessons based on the Melchisedec type, but nothing that seems especially difficult to understand. He was both a king and a priest, representing the double role of the Messiah during the millennium, and this is a beautifully simple truth to grasp. Apparently, then, their dullness of hearing was not a lack of intelligence, but simply a disinterested attitude. This lack of studious interest probably caused them to overlook what the Lord had said about Melchisedec, so anything that Paul might write to them about this type would seem strange.

What about ourselves? Are we giving the Master our undivided attention, listening with all our mind and heart? In Isaiah 50:4, Leeser’s Translation, the prophet, personifying Jesus, says of his Father: “He wakeneth me morning by morning, he wakeneth my ear to listen like those who are well taught.” Is God blessing us in this manner, or are we hindering our own growth in grace and knowledge by our hardness of heart and dullness of hearing? It has been given to us to know the mysteries of heaven, and Jesus said, “Blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.” (Matt. 13:16) Do we properly appreciate this great honor, and are we keeping alert to learn and to apply all the lessons which the Lord is so graciously supplying for us?

VERSES 12,13  “When for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For everyone that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.”

‘For the time ye ought to be teachers’—this indicates that God’s purpose in calling us into the Truth is in order that we may become teachers of the Word—his ambassadors and the “ambassadors for Christ.”—II Cor. 5:20

The Hebrew brethren to whom Paul wrote had been in the Truth long enough to be skilled in the use of the Word, able to explain, not merely the simple facts concerning sin, the need of a Redeemer, and the hope of life through Christ for both the church and the world, but also to be able to give a reason for this hope, from the promises of God and from the many illustrations he has provided to help us appreciate more fully what the Truth should mean to us.

Paul does not in any sense minimize the importance of the ‘milk’ of the Word. Indeed, he tells the Hebrew brethren that they needed to have the ‘first principles’ taught to them again. Because of neglected privileges, neglected opportunities for study and prayer and fellowship, they had not grown in the knowledge of the Lord and of his Truth, and had even lost some of the clear vision of the Truth which, for a while, they had enjoyed. Real growth in knowledge is possible only when the basic principles of the Truth are kept in mind and used as a foundation upon which to build.

The ‘first principles’ of the Truth referred to by Paul are not necessarily the simple truths of the Divine plan. They are ‘first’ because they are basic, or fundamental, to an understanding of all truth. The Greek word here translated principles conveys the thought of an orderly arrangement, and such are the basic doctrines of the Divine plan when seen in the light of the rightly divided Word of truth.—II Tim. 2:15

The Hebrew brethren had lost their clear vision of the Divine plan, and in order again to become skillful in the use of the Word they needed to begin their studies all over anew. Not only did they need to be taught again concerning the first principles, but it had become necessary that these basic truths be outlined to them in the simplest way possible—as illustrated by feeding a child with milk. Thus they could properly understand and assimilate the Truth.

VERSE 14  “Strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

The difference between babes in Christ and mature Christians is that the latter have made proper use of the Truth, and have thus grown strong in the Lord. They have been diligent both in their study of the Truth and in their application of its principles in their daily lives. Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott renders this passage, “possessing faculties habitually exercised,” that is, not allowed to grow dormant from neglect.

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