Lecture 23: Hebrews 12:1-17
Lecture: Hebrews 12:1-17
If you go back to what we saw in the beginning, you have a movement from the author laying a foundation in terms of Christology. He started with Jesus being higher than the angels, stopping to give an exhortation in 2:1-4; this was based on Christ’s supremacy and then setting up that argument of lessor to greater. He makes a transition to incarnation in 2:10-18. Afterwards, there is exhortation that runs from 3:1-4:13 where the author gives a positive example of Jesus being faithful over against Moses. He gives a negative example of those who died in the wilderness and then he gives this promise of hope for rest in 4:1-11. Then we come to this large center section of the book in which 4:14-16 introduces the appointment and superior offering of Jesus. The author first moves into the appointment of the Son in 5:1-10. He stops and then confronts them with their problem which ends up being a spiritual dullness. He warns them in 6:4-8 and mitigates that warning in 6:9-12 then transitions back into his section on appointment which he deals with in chapter 7, that Jesus is the high priest like unto Melchizedek. In chapters 8-10:18, he deals with the superior offering of Jesus, being superior because it is a new covenant offering. This offering was made in heaven, made with the blood of Jesus rather than with the blood of bulls and goats. It was made once for all time rather than having to be made year after year. After that, there is a closing off of the section on Jesus’ ministry in 10:19-25. Afterwards, there is a section of rolling exhortations; you have the harsh warning in 10:26-31 and the mitigation of that warning as he reminds them of their own past example in 10:32-40. You have chapter 11, a rolling exemplar of the reason why we should live by faith. We have a list of people who have lived by faith. Now, we come to another aspect of the exhortation in chapter 12 verses 1-17. It will use a somewhat different type of exhortation here. We have dealt with warnings, and then we have had the exemplar and mitigation of the warning. So, what is the nature of this exhortation material that we face now? The first two verses are unique in that the author does something different in verses 3-17.
II. Hebrews 12:1-17
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, 2 keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up. 4 You have not yet resisted to the point of bloodshed in your struggle against sin. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons? “My son, do not scorn the Lord’s discipline or give up when he corrects you. 6 “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.” 7 Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? 8 But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons. 9 Besides, we have experienced discipline from our earthly fathers and we respected them; shall we not submit ourselves all the more to the Father of spirits and receive life? 10 For they disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness. 11 Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. 15 But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it. 12 Therefore, strengthen your listless hands and your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but be healed. 14 Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, for without it no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God, that no one be like a bitter root springing up and causing trouble, and through it many become defiled. 16 And see to it that no one becomes an immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that later when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no opportunity for repentance, although he sought the blessing with tears.
A. Hebrews 12:1-2:
1 τοιγαρούν (Accordingly) και (also,) ημείς (we) τοσούτον (so great) έχοντες (having) περικείμενον (encompassing) ημίν (us) νέφος (a cloud) μαρτύρων (of witnesses,) όγκον (swelling) αποθέμενοι (having put aside) πάντα (every) και (and) την ευπερίστατον (accessible) αμαρτίαν (sin,) δι΄ (through) υπομονής (endurance) τρέχωμεν (let us run) τον (the) προκείμενον (being situated before) ημίν (us) αγώνα (struggle,)
2 αφορώντες (looking) εις (to) τον (the) της (of the) πίστεως (belief) αρχηγόν (head) και (and) τελειωτήν (perfection) Ιησούν (Jesus,) ος (who,) αντί (instead of)
της (the) προκειμένης (being situated before) αυτώ (him) χαράς (joy,) υπέμεινε (endured) σταυρόν (the cross,) αισχύνης (the shame) καταφρονήσας (disdaining,) εν (at) δεξιά (the right) τε (and) του (of the) θρόνου (throne) του θεού (of God) κεκάθικεν (has sat.)
One of my favorite quotes is from Philo saying if however, as he goes on his way, he neither becomes weary (he is talking about a virtuous person here) or gives in and collapses nor grows remiss so that he turns aside; now in this direction, now in that direction and goes astray missing the central road that never diverges. But taking the good runners as his example, he finishes the race of life without stumbling. When he has reached the end, he shall obtain crowns and prizes as a fitting athlete. In another place, he talks about the contest of virtue as being the only contest worth being in. He says the contest for winning virtues which are divine and really Olympian; for this contest, those who are very weak in their bodies but strong in their souls all enter and proceed to strip and rub dust over them and do everything that skill and strength enables them to do, omitting nothing that can help them to victory. So, he is saying that you may be weakling physically but you can be an Olympian in virtue. This is to strip off whatever it is that hinders. This word can be used to describe body weight, bodily fat for instance that hinders or clothing that is keeping you from running well. So, we as Christians are to lay aside those things that keep us from running effectively. The author draws a parallel to the Christian life to being overweight. We look at those things that we are involved in and we assess how they affect us in living for the Lord and following the path of faith the way that we should. We want to lay aside those things that hinder us in running the race well.
The other term that he uses here; uparistiton; some would call this the besetting sin; however, we are not completely sure what this word means. It seems to have something to do with entangling us or binding us up. It represents something that is getting in the way so it would be parallel to the previous concept. But we are to run with endurance the race that is marked out for us and to do it looking to Jesus, the author and prefecter of faith. The author has spent a lot of time painting this beautiful picture of Jesus biblically; so we see in him in his exaltation and we also see him in his endurance in the incarnation. As we go along in life and we are persevering, it helps us to both look at Jesus in his exaltation to see that this is ultimate outcome of his endurance and to see that he gives us stability from that position because of the super covenant that he has established. We look at him in his exaltation and in his incarnation because we follow his example of endurance in living through difficult things in this world. The author says that we look to him for the joy marked out to him as he endured the cross. What does this mean? One understanding of this is, because of the joy, the joy of the exaltation he endured through that of the crucifixion. What is the corresponding evidence of this biblically? What would support this in terms of a broader theological standpoint? You have this pattern that humiliation is follows by exaltation. Bill Lane says that there is another possibility here; he suggests that it is choosing one over the other. This term often does mean in the place of. What Lane would say, the author is suggesting, instead of a life of joy, he chose the life of suffering by following God and being obediently. So, it isn’t the idea that he was able to endure the crucifixion because he knew the joy was coming in exaltation, rather Lane thinks that he chose the path of suffering over the path of joy. It depends on how you interpret the Greek word ‘anti’. You can say that it means for the joy or anticipating the joy but Lane takes it to mean in place of. I think I disagree with Lane at this point; I still understand it as the joy follows the suffering.
The context seems to be a pattern in which you endure because God has promised that the better is coming. He despised the shame of the cross and then sat down at the right hand of God. The concept of crucifixion in the ancient world was vulgar. You didn’t say cross or crucifixion in polite society of the
Greco-Roman world as it conjured images that were too horrific. Crucifixion was meant to be brutally torture. Mel Gibson’s movie regarding the crucifixion of Christ may be a somewhat adequate picture that compares to the historical reality of the death of Jesus. When it says that he despised the shame; this is the idea of shaming means to think nothing of them. It is showing that you didn’t think much of a person. But Jesus shamed the shame; he looked at the shame of the cross and rather than thinking it phenomenon-ally significant, he treated it as if was very insignificant. He shamed it in light of the
exaltation. Obviously it was very significant, horrifically so and wonderfully so. This was the brightest and darkest day of human history. So, what Jesus does, he shames the shame and scorns it, treating it as if it is of little or no value. We come to the final allusion in Psalm 110:1 where the author is using it here as a mean of exaltation. He has used it earlier in the book communicating finality in 10:12. Here, the author is using it as a means of encouragement of which we can see the ultimate outcome of Jesus’ obedience and faithfulness. So, you have the exaltation and the results of that are still very much a present concern in reality. He has moved from talking about just the historical fact of exaltation to that now we live in light of the exaltation.
B. Hebrews 12:3-4:
3 αναλογίσασθε γαρ (For consider the cost) τον (by the one) τοιαύτην (2 such) υπομεμενηκότα (enduring) υπό (by) των (the) αμαρτωλών (sinners) εις (against) αυτόν (him) αντιλογίαν (dispute,) ίνα (that) μη (you should not) κάμητε (weary) ταις (in) ψυχαίς υμών (your souls) εκλυόμενοι (fainting.)
4 ούπω (Not yet) μέχρις (unto) αίματος (blood) αντικατέστητε (have you stood firm) προς (against) την αμαρτίαν (3 sin) ανταγωνιζόμενοι (struggling,)
Now, in verse 3, he exhorts us by saying to consider him who endured such hostility (αμαρτωλών) by sinners against himself. He is asking us to consider Jesus; there is a parallel to this in chapter 3:1. So, consider Jesus who endured such hostility by sinners against himself, in order that you may not (κάμητε); this is the idea of growing weary, but it carries the idea of being discouraged. What is that final term: ανταγωνιζόμενοι? It has to do with fainting. So, it is a picture of someone who is very discouraged; a person who is under a load of discouragement. He is saying that if you look to Jesus’ example and what
he endured, then it gives you encouragement to not to become faint-hearted. It is to be someone who is emotionally weak because of the persecution that you are experiencing. He ends this thought with a transition by saying that they have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in their struggle against sin. There seems to be a historical indication here that these people have not faced martyrdom yet. This is one reason why Lane would date it prior to the intense persecution under Nero in the mid 60’s AD.
C. Hebrews 12:5-14:
5 και (and) εκλέλησθε (you have been totally forgotten) της (of the) παρακλήσεως (exhortation,) ήτις (which) υμίν (to you) ως (as) υιοίς (to sons) διαλέγεται (he reasons, saying,) υιέ μου (O my son,) μη (do not) ολιγώρει (have little regard) παιδείας (for the instruction) κυρίου (of the Lord,) μηδέ (nor) εκλύου (be enfeebled) υπ΄ (by) αυτού (3 him) ελεγχόμενος (being reproved!)
6 ον γαρ (For whom) αγαπά κύριος (the Lord loves) παιδεύει (he corrects,) μαστιγοί δε (and he whips) πάντα (every) υιόν (son) ον (whom) παραδέχεται (he welcomes.)
7 ει (If) παιδείαν (discipline) υπομένετε (you endure,) ως (as) υιοίς (sons) υμίν (to you) προσφέρεται (brings discipline) ο θεός (God;) τις γαρ (for who) εστιν (is) υιός (the son) ον (whom) ου (does not) παιδεύει (correct) πατήρ (a father?)
8 ει δε (And if) χωρίς εστε (you are without the help of) παιδείας (instruction,) ης (of which) μέτοχοι (3 partakers) γεγόνασι (2 have become) πάντες (all,) άρα (then) νόθοι εστέ (you are illegitimate) και (and) ουχ (not) υιοί (sons.)
9 είτα (So then) τους μεν (indeed,) της (of the) σαρκός (flesh) ημών (of our) πατέρας (fathers) είχομεν (we have) παιδευτάς (correctors,) και (and) ενετρεπόμεθα (we show respect;) ου (not) πολλώ (much) μάλλον (more) υποταγησόμεθ (shall we 3 be submitted) τω (to the) πατρί (father) των (of the) πνευμάτων (spirits,) και (and) ζήσομεν (we shall live?)
10 οι (they) μεν (indeed) γαρ (For) προς (for) ολίγας (a few) ημέρας (days,) κατά (as) το δοκούν (it seemed good) αυτοίς (to them,) επαίδευον (corrected;) ο δε (but he does so) επί (for) το (the) συμφέρον (advantage,) εις (for us) το μεταλαβείν (to share in) της αγιότητος αυτού (his sanctity.)
11 πάσα δε (But any) παιδεία (discipline) προς (by) μεν (indeed) το (the) παρόν (hand) ου (does not) δοκεί (seem) χαράς είναι (to be joy,) αλλά (but) λύπης (distress;) ύστερον δε (but afterwards) καρπόν (fruit) ειρηνικόν (peaceable) τοις (to the ones) δι΄ (by) αυτής (8 it) γεγυμνασμένοις (having been exercised) αποδίδωσι (it renders) δικαιοσύνης (of righteousness.)
12 διό (Therefore) τας (the) παρειμένας (weakened) χείρας (hands) και (and) τα (the) παραλελυμένα (disabled) γόνατα (knees) ανορθώσατε (re-erect!)
13 και (And) τροχιάς (tracks) ορθάς (straight) ποιήσατε (make) τοις (to) ποσίν υμών (your feet!) ίνα (that) μη (not) το (the) χωλόν (lame) εκτραπή (should be turned aside,) ιαθή (should be healed) δε (but) μάλλον (rather!)
14 ειρήνην (peace) διώκετε (Pursue) μετά (with) πάντων (all,) και (and) τον (the) αγιασμόν (sanctification!) ου χωρίς (apart from which) ουδείς (no one) όψεται (shall see) τον (the) κύριον (Lord;)
In verse 5, he turns to the illustration of parental discipline. He quotes Proverbs 3:11-12 to do this; this put discipline in a positive light or framework. He says not to forget the word of encouragement which he addresses to you as sons; the image of son-ship comes back in very prominently. My son, do not take lightly the discipline of the Lord. So, he is placing a value on the experience of going through discipline. We are not to lose heart when we are reprimanded by him. The Lord disciplines those he loves and he scourges every son whom he accepts. The analogy he uses here is of parental discipline. Look at the logic in what follows this. In verses 7 and following, he uses the example of a son in the Greco-Roman world. With Jews, Greeks and Romans of the ancient world, they held to parental authority and yet the authority was often put in the context of love and nurture. You see this from various literary sources; for example, one writer notes the challenge in what a young child wants. Horace acknowledges the balkiness of two year olds and Euripides speaks of a child’s fear of being abandoned. We see that they were very concerned about some aspects of childhood. The father was seen as having a very important role in the training of the son. They might use a tutor to care for the training of a boy at age six or seven, and the continuing role of the father was paramount. The father was to train the child for adult life and this involved correction and punishment. So, the image is very appropriately taken from wisdom literature. The argument the author gives in this situation is that discipline is part of being a ligament child. This is normal in a father/son relationship. As children, we respect our earthly fathers for doing this. So, here you have an argument for lessor to greater. Therefore, shouldn’t we respect the Father when he disciplines us? Here, he gives us two thoughts about disciples; first, discipline produces holiness and secondly, discipline is not fun. Discipline doesn’t seem joyful when you are going through it. You look at it in light of what it is producing in you.
You see this principle elsewhere in the New Testament such as James 1:2-4. Consider it all joy my brothers when you experience various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let endurance have its perfect work that you may be perfect and lacking in nothing. We see the
difficulties they were facing from an eternal perspective of what God is creating in us and the character he is building in us through our difficulties. So, this passage is very much in line with that idea. The discipline of God is productive. It isn’t suggesting that God brings about persecution of Christians but instead God can redeem that persecution and use it for our good. There is a little book called Endurance in Suffering by Clayton Craw; this is a monograph published in 1998. Craw has made the case that this suffering isn’t punitive; it is not punishment. It is in line with an educational notion in the Greco-Roman world. It is a positive concept of us being strengthened through a certain type of experience. It is discipline in the sense of helping us to grow and understand and learn in life. He ends this little section by encouragement to strengthen the arms or hands; the image that is used here is of a person in a race but they are worn out. This serves as a metaphor for emotional and spiritual fatigue. These people must have been feeling this under persecution. Hebrews actually points to a passage from Isaiah which reads, strengthen the feeble hand, and steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, be strong and do not fear. Your God will come; he will come with vengeance and with divine retribution he will save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool; the thirsty ground will bubble springs in the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will now grow. A highway will be there which will be called the way of holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that way; wicked fools will not go about on it (Isaiah 35:3-8).
So, the imagery of strengthening weak knees and hands is connected to the idea of hope in the Lord; the Lord is going to bring retribution on the enemies of his people. We are to continue to walk in the Lord’s path as he brings deliverance. God is going to put things right. In verse 13 he tells us to be on that right path; I think the imagery is to walk the path in such a way that if you are struggling physically, you want to be on a level path. If you get off the path and you are running on uneven ground, you can easily get hurt. So, the idea is to be on the path of the Lord so that you will end up with a good situation and can be strengthened physically rather than hurting yourself.
D. Hebrews 12:14-17:
15 επισκοπούντες (overseeing,) μη (lest) τις (any) υστερών (lack) από (of) της (the) χάριτος (favor) του θεού (of God;) μη (lest) τις (any) ρίζα (root) πικρίας (of bitterness) άνω (upward) φύουσα (germinating) ενοχλή (should be trouble,) και (and) διά (through) ταύτης (this) μιανθώσι (should be defiled) πολλοί (many;)
16 μη (lest) τις (there be any) πόρνος (fornicator) η (or) βέβηλος (profane person) ως (as) Ησαύ (Esau,) ος (who) αντί (for) βρώσεως (of food) μιάς (one portion)
απέδοτο (delivered over) τα πρωτοτόκια αυτού (his rights of the first-born.)
17 ίστε γαρ (For you understand) ότι (that) και (also) μετέπειτα (afterwards) θέλων (wanting) κληρονομήσαι (to inherit) την (the) ευλογίαν (blessing,) απεδοκιμάσθη (he was rejected;) μετανοίας (for repentance) γαρ (for) τόπον (place) ουχ (no) εύρε (was found,) καίπερ (though) μετά (with) δακρύων (tears) εκζητήσας (he sought) αυτήν (it.)
He first exhorts us to seek peace with everyone and holiness, apart from which no one will see the Lord. This holiness is purity of life. We come to a very interesting statement in verse 15. He tells us to make sure in our community of faith, that no one lacks the grace of God, which no root of bitterness grows up is able to contaminate the many. So, in the community, make sure that there is no bitterness that first cause’s trouble or stirs up anger and through it many are contaminated in some way. I think this alludes to Deuteronomy 29:18 where it says to make sure that there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart is turned away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison. If you understand the Old Testament context, what is in mind is the problem of people in the community turning away from the covenant causing problems with the dynamics of the community, causing people to turn away from the Lord. If you have ever been in the context of a Christian community where people were rebelling against God; people who were turning their backs on God and walking away; it is a painful and hurtful situation for the community. It causes trouble and contaminates the sense of unity in the community. If we have correctly read the backdrop of Hebrews, you have people who are abandoning the faith; they have become disillusioned with Christianity. They are leaving the life of the Christian community. The author is saying that this causes problems in the community. This is the idea of the bitter root.
Finally, in verses 16 and 17, he uses the example of Esau. He says that he doesn’t want anyone to be an evil or Godless person like Esau; perverted is kind of the idea here; someone who is immoral. Esau traded one meal for his (τα πρωτοτόκια αυτού,) his birth-right. So, he defines a Godless person, an
immoral person in the person of Esau as one who thought so little of his inheritance that he traded it for some basic physical need. The author describes his situation in verse 17; because he was a person who valued it so little that even when he desired to inherit the blessing, he couldn’t because he was rejected even though he sought it with tears. Adding insult to injury, the idea of the rights of the firstborn was something very important in the social structures of the then world. Deuteronomy 21 says that the firstborn son receives a double portion of the father’s inheritance. When you think about the implications of this and that he would trade this for a bowl of stew; the author points out the foolishness of someone who would do this and the lack of spiritual depth and sensitivity. Again, adding insult to injury, Jacob not only got his birthright, he also took his blessing. So, the author wants to point out that by analogy once an inheritance and blessing have been rejected, only tears and rejection result. Believers rather, should value their spiritual inheritance. So, how far should we take this analogy with Esau? I think the main point of the passage; he shows in this narrative situation, this was the outcome in Esau’s case. It was utter ruin and devastation in terms of his spiritual reality. I don’t think that theologically he is necessarily saying that ontologically Esau could not repent however there is an element that it is gone and he can’t get it back. But this is what happens to turn away from their inheritance.