5/02/17 Hebrews 12:22-29 “Our God is still a consuming fire! Part 1”
Continue to take note of the context in which this is written, following on from the chastening of God and the fight of faith. Now we have some advice on living (and persevering in) the Christian life, and what appears to be a warning on what could happen to those who show contempt for God’s requirements regarding His holiness.
Hebrews 12:12 – Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;
lift up – make erect (of a deformed person); rear again; build anew. Used in Luke 13:13 (“made straight”) and Acts 15:16 – After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up:
hang down – relaxed; weakened; exhausted.
feeble – weakened; tottering; weak of limb; suffering from relaxation; palsied.
The picture is of a person who has either relaxed or has been weakened through exhaustion. It could describe a person with palsy. In this context, it could relate to the chastening of the Lord but is more likely to do with the life and death struggle of Hebrews 12:1-3 for which the chastening was an encouragement (exhortation Vs 5) to increase their striving against sin (Vs 4). This would then increase the hostility of the world against them, producing severe trials of faith, persecutions that would tempt the battle-wearied Christian to just give in and leave the fight to others. (Note “race” which meant more of a fight, battle, struggle – Hebrews 12:1) There must have been a very strong temptation for some of these Hebrew Christians to go back to their old covenant worship, noting that some of their worst persecution had come from the temple rulers.
The exhortation is to lift up, make upright, or make straight their hanging arms and palsied knees. That is, be strong and fear not, for God will come and save you.
Isaiah 35:3-4 – 3 Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. 4 Say to them [that are] of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come [with] vengeance, [even] God [with] a recompence; he will come and save you.
Hebrews 12:13 – And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.
Proverbs 4:26 – Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.
Septuagint – Make straight paths for thy feet, and order thy ways aright.
“Make straight” can mean even to straighten a limb that is out of joint or broken (lame) and “lame” means “deprived of a foot” or “maimed”. The idea seems to be that if you are maimed or crippled in some way, causing you to be deformed and not able to stand upright, then you’ll walk (or run?) crookedly and thus be turned to one side of the path (course) you should be taking. If we relate this to the race (battle; struggle; fight) or “course” as Paul termed it in 2 Timothy 4:7, then the verse is to be taken spiritually. Our struggle of faith, our battle to reach the end of the course set before us in the stadium, is to be single-mindedly focused upon the end (“looking unto Jesus” Vs 2), avoiding other burdens that hold us back, not being distracted by side-issues (often related to the world) and the sin which surrounds us (the reasoning behind the passage on the chastening of God). If we cannot straighten out the pathways on which we are running (if we cannot “antagonise” our sin enough), then we’ll be diverted by our “lameness” onto the wrong pathways.
Instead, we are to let our lameness be healed, as per the chastening of the Lord (Vs 5-11) so that our paths for our feet will be made straight and so we don’t get turned aside off the right pathway. Thus, the chastening of God is to heal our spiritual lameness, to assist us to walk straight without being distracted, looking unto Jesus, the Captain and Perfector of faith (Hebrews 12:2).
2 Timothy 4:6-8 – 6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished [my] course, I have kept the faith: 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
Hebrews 12:14 – Follow peace with all [men], and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:
Follow – to seek after eagerly; earnestly endeavour to acquire.
peace – exemption from the rage and havoc of war; peace between individuals, i.e. harmony, concord;
holiness – consecration; sanctification.
Seek earnestly after peace (harmony; agreement) between all individuals (this has to mean primarily the Hebrew church). Some may have been disputing the need for being so “Christian”, so consecrated, so sanctified (set apart for God’s purposes), but without which not one of them would be able to see (behold) the Lord. But do they actually see God or is it simply a metaphorical statement? It does appear to be more of the seeing of the mind, noting that we walk not by sight but by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7). Also see similar in the following verses:
Matthew 5:8 – Blessed [are] the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
John 3:3b – Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Christians should avoid irrelevant disputes because they only cause trouble.
2 Timothy 2:23 – But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.
And one that affected the Jewish Christians a lot.
Titus 3:9 – But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.
Hebrews 12:15 – Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble [you], and thereby many be defiled;
Looking diligently – episkopeo (look upon; inspect; look after; care for; of the care of the church which rested upon the elders) Used one other place:
1 Peter 5:2 – Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight [thereof], not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
Thus this has especial application to the Hebrew church leaders, the ones who had the oversight of the flock.
fail – to fall behind; fall short of the end; to be wanting; to lack (be inferior) in excellence.
bitterness – bitter gall; extreme wickedness; producing bitter fruit; bitter hatred.
defiled – to dye with another colour; to be stained; polluted; contaminated; defile with sins.
They were to carefully look after the flock in case any might be falling short of the grace of God, that is, to have sinned presuming upon the availability of God’s grace. This assumes a certain measure of wilfulness.
Hebrews 10:26 – For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
The consequence of such can be a root of bitterness (probably between people of the church) that causes trouble (disturbances; annoyances) between the members such that many may be led astray into contamination with sin.
Hebrews 12:16 – Lest there [be] any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.
fornicator – pornos from pernemi (to sell) (a male prostitute; a man who indulges in unlawful sexual intercourse; a fornicator) Thus “pornography” which means “writing about (male) prostitution”. Sometimes translated as “whoremonger”.
profane – unhallowed (unholy); common; ungodly (of men); focused upon the earthly.
We know a lot about Esau who sold his birthright (the special blessing for the first-born) to Jacob for a bowl of soup or stew (Genesis 25:30-33). It doesn’t tell us in Genesis that Esau was a fornicator, yet Jewish tradition suggests he lived an impure life. But here it is most likely meant in a spiritual sense, much as God called His people spiritual harlots and spiritually profane.
Hosea 1:2b – And the Lord said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, [departing] from the Lord.
Malachi 2:11 – Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god.
“One morsel of meat” represents the despising of Esau for that which should have meant much more to him. Esau was contemptuous of God’s provision (his birthright); there were more important things to worry about! He prostituted himself to the world, forsaking God and the birthright that was his by birth. He would rather worship the unholy (the profane) than worship the one true God; that is, he was an ungodly man.
This could allude to those who might say they are Christians, yet cannot see God as important enough to let Him dictate how they should live their lives. However, the birthright of every person on this earth is to receive the free gift of justification of sins which is activated by faith in Christ, something that will determine their eternal future, yet they forsake this for a few years of “life” or “pleasure” on this earth before they go to the grave. They choose a short time of pleasures rather than afflictions followed by an eternity of life.
Hebrews 11:25 – Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
Hebrews 12:17 – For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
For you know that later on, when Esau came to receive the blessing which should have been his by birthright, he was rejected by his father Isaac who wouldn’t change his mind (repent) concerning this, even though Esau sought it, even begging for it with tears. Isaac just would not (could not) repent of his decision that had blessed Jacob.
Genesis 27:37-38 – 37 And Isaac answered and said unto Esau, Behold, I have made him thy lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants; and with corn and wine have I sustained him: and what shall I do now unto thee, my son? 38 And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, [even] me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept.
All on earth have the right by birth (as those created in God’s image) to claim God’s redemption through Jesus on the cross; all may be saved, if only they would call upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13). But most reject their birthright (of eternal life) for one morsel of meat (the pleasures of a moment of life); once they die they will face a judgment that will condemn them for eternity, though they might earnestly seek that God would repent of the harm He will bring upon them and would give them one more chance to make the right decision.
When Moses begged of God that He change His mind concerning the destruction of Israel after the incident of the golden calf, God did indeed repent.
Exodus 32:14 – And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.
But this repentance is but a figure of speech, for God does not really repent but instead says this for Moses’ understanding of the matter, for God would have known about this incident (through His foreknowledge) from before the foundations of the world.
Numbers 23:19 – God [is] not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do [it]? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
God also says He will forget our sin, yet God cannot forget anything, ever! There are times when God says things at our level of understanding, knowing that we wouldn’t understand otherwise. In Vs 17 above, it means that there will come a time when it is too late to change our minds concerning our birthright. No amount of pleading, begging, no amount of tears and weeping will ever change God’s decision on your eternal future once your window of opportunity is gone.
Ecclesiastes 12:5-7 – 5 Also [when] they shall be afraid of [that which is] high, and fears [shall be] in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets: 6 Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. 7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man, being in torments, cried out for someone to warn his five brothers to repent before it was too late for them as well (Luke 16:19-31).
The time for salvation is always now, while you have the opportunity; there may never be a tomorrow.
2 Corinthians 6:2 – (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now [is] the accepted time; behold, now [is] the day of salvation.)
Hebrews 12:18 – For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,
For we are not dealing with a God who can be treated just like any common thing.
Deuteronomy 4:11 – And ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness.
The God of the old covenant was a fearsome God, unapproachable, a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). Anyone who might dare approach God here would be struck down without warning.
Note the similarity with the touching of the Ark of the Covenant by Uzzah:
2 Samuel 6:6-7 – 6 And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth [his hand] to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook [it]. 7 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for [his] error; and there he died by the ark of God.
It is certain that Uzzah’s main concern had been to protect the Ark, yet he died.
Likewise Isaiah feared death for just coming into God’s presence in a vision.
Isaiah 6:5 – Then said I, Woe [is] me! for I am undone; because I [am] a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.
Even using (saying or writing) the term “curse” with God’s name was absolutely forbidden by the rules of Israel. That is why Job should sacrifice for his family in case they might have “blessed” the Lord (as the Hebrew has it in Job 1:5). It is why Naboth was stoned to death by order of Jezebel for “blessing” God (translated as blaspheming God in the KJV in 1 Kings 21:13).
So much preparation had to be carried out according to the Law before anyone could approach God, and if preparations were incomplete, God would not be approached!
This is in contrast with Hebrews 12:22 – But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, That is, this is not the old covenant system where no-one might approach God so boldly, or else they would be struck down for disrespect.
Hebrews 4:16 – Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Now we may approach God with no personal preparation other than presenting ourselves through Jesus Christ, because the preparation has now been completed, perfected through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our High Priest in the heavenlies.
Hebrews 12:19 – And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which [voice] they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more:
Exodus 19:16-19 – 16 And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that [was] in the camp trembled. 17 And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. 18 And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. 19 And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.
Deuteronomy 4:12 – And the Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only [ye heard] a voice.
It was all so fearful that those who heard all this begged that no more be said to them or else they would not be permitted to live.
Exodus 20:19 – And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
Deuteronomy 18:15-16 – 15 The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; 16 According to all that thou desiredst of the Lord thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not.
Deuteronomy 5:25 – Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die.
And God added no more to His words spoken on the mount.
Deuteronomy 5:22 – These words the Lord spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me.
Hebrews 12:20 – (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart:
Exodus 19:12-13 – 12 And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, [that ye] go [not] up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death: 13 There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether [it be] beast or man, it shall not live: when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount.
This probably means they could not continue to bear the terror of what might happen if they were to break any of God’s rules, and the more rules they were given, the more risk they had of being caught out, thus paying the penalty which was more often death than not. Even if an ignorant beast touched the mountain, it would be killed, so what hope did they have who were not ignorant?
Hebrews 12:21 – And so terrible was the sight, [that] Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:
Deuteronomy 9:18-19 – 18 And I fell down before the Lord, as at the first, forty days and forty nights: I did neither eat bread, nor drink water, because of all your sins which ye sinned, in doing wickedly in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger. 19 For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure, wherewith the Lord was wroth against you to destroy you. But the Lord hearkened unto me at that time also.
Even Moses’ terror was so great that he, the friend of God, feared and quaked at the word of God, the law.
I feel that we today have grown far too used to a God who stays out of our way and doesn’t interfere unless we go looking for trouble. Thus, Christians seem to think that if you don’t go looking for trouble with God, then He’ll give you everything your heart desires (or similar platitudes). To many people today, God is a consumer item that is paid for when they go to church and do all the right things according to their church’s rules and traditions. Then, having done their duty, their “God” is now obligated to give them His part of the agreement. It’s a pity God hasn’t agreed to such; the judgment will find them out, yet be too late for them to change their minds.
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