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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Hebrews 3

Verse 1
Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, even Jesus.

Holy brethren
is the third term of endearment already used in this epistle to describe God's people, the other two being "sanctified" and "sons" (Hebrews 2:11-13). That mortal man should be considered holy is due to the imputation of Christ's righteousness and to their having received the gift of the Holy Spirit subsequent to their being baptized into Christ (Acts 2:38). Thus their holiness was not in any sense a consequence of their being born of Jewish parents, a preponderantly Gentile congregation receiving the same designation (1 Thessalonians 5:26,; 5:26, ).

Partakers of a heavenly calling
is a reference to the universal and eternal dimensions of the Christian vocation, which is a heaven-centered faith, its emphasis being emphatically upon the things in heaven, rather than upon the things of earth. This concept pervades the whole book of Hebrews and makes even the most sacred things on earth the mere copies of things in heaven. The heavenly nature of this calling is not seen merely in the fact that it came from heaven, for the Jewish system did also. Rather, here is a reference to the spiritual and eternal inheritance of Christians, as contrasted with the mortal and earthly goals of Judaism.

is a common word in English, but it has a rich etymological significance, being formed from two Latin words, con (with) plus sideris (stars or constellation), thus having a literal meaning related to observing the stars. One who takes the time to behold the beauty and majesty of the night sky is literally WITH THE STARS in his thoughts and emotions and cannot fail to receive deep impressions of awe, wonder, and appreciation. It is with this very attitude that people are invited to consider Christ.

The Apostle and High Priest of our confession, even Jesus.
Nowhere else in scripture is the title of "Apostle" applied to Christ, but it certainly fits the office of our Lord as the official messenger from heaven, since the primary meaning of the word is "one sent or commissioned for some important communication"; and although the word "apostle" is not in other places used of Christ, the meaning of it surely is. The Old Testament prophecy named him "the messenger of the covenant", and Jesus referred to this phase of his work as follows, "The Father that sent me, he hath given me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak" (John 12:49). An additional implication in the meaning of the word "apostle" is that the person sending is greater in dignity than the one sent; and to make clear just what is meant by its reference to Jesus, the author of Hebrews uses the term "Jesus," that being the usual scriptural word where the human nature of our Lord is meant. It was only in his human nature that the lesser dignity of "Apostle" could be imputed to Christ; because, in his eternal nature, he was equal to God (Philippians 2:6).

Christ's representation here as High Priest is a part of the argument for his superiority over Moses, who was not a high priest. Moses was prophet, mediator, and king (in a sense); but the office of high priest pertained only to Aaron. Christ was all that Moses was, and more; he was also High Priest.

Our confession
is not reference to some formal subscription to any such thing as a creed but is used here to mean the holy religion of Christ.

Verse 2
Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also was Moses in all his house.

In Heb. 2:17, Jesus had already been mentioned as a merciful and faithful high priest, and it is his "faithfulness" that needed stress here. Note how delicately the inspired writer defers to the deserved honor of Moses, whom he did not belittle or diminish in any way. Both Moses and Jesus were faithful to deliver God's message to people, each in his own way, and each in his own capacity. A more detailed study of Moses the type and Jesus the antitype reveals both the similarities and the contrasts.



In their birth, both became sons of virgin princesses, Moses through adoption by Pharaoh's daughter, Christ by means of the incarnation, and his birth by miracle, of the virgin Mary.

Both were Israelites, it being specifically prophesied that the Messiah would be raised up from amidst "the brethren" (Deuteronomy 18:15).

Both were sent to the children of Israel, Moses from Midian, and Christ from heaven.

Both forsook the high status of their lives to perform a mission of rescue, Moses leaving the court of Pharaoh, and Christ leaving heaven.

Both were rejected. The Jews said to Moses, "Who made thee a ruler and judge over us" (Exodus 2:14). Christ was rejected and crucified.

Both accomplished their missions. Moses delivered Israel from Egypt; Christ delivers from sin all who follow him.

Both wrought many miracles, signs and wonders.

The first miracle of each had a startling resemblance. Moses changed the water into blood; Christ changed the water into wine.

The inauguration of the Law of Moses and that of Christ had this in common: that three thousand souls were involved in each case, three thousand being lost at Sinai, three thousand being saved at Pentecost (Exodus 32:38; Acts 2:38ff).

Both were transfigured, Moses on Sinai (Exodus 34:29,30), Jesus on Mount Hermon (Matthew 17:2).

Both delivered God's law to people.

Both offered themselves to die for Israel (Exodus 32:32; John 10:17).

Both made a marriage with the Gentiles, Moses literally, Christ in a figure, the Gentiles becoming a part of his bride (Numbers 12:1; Ephesians 5:25ff).

Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness; Christ lifted himself upon the cross (John 3:14).

Israel was baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Corinthians 10:2); spiritual Israel are baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:27).

Moses gave to the people bread from heaven (Exodus 16:15); Christ gave the people loaves and fishes in the wilderness, a figure of him who is the Bread of Life (John 6:31,49ff).

Both were the subjects of a special interposition on the part of God when they died, Moses being buried by God (Deuteronomy 34:6), and Christ being raised from the dead (Mark 16:6).

There are also many similarities between the lives of Moses the great Lawgiver of Israel and Jesus Christ the great Lawgiver of all mankind; but the above are far more than enough to establish the truth that Christ was indeed "the Prophet" like unto Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15).


Moses was faithful as a servant, Christ as a Son, over God's house.

Moses labored in a house he did not build, Christ in the house he built, his own house.

Moses did not lead the people into the promised land; Christ does lead the people into glory.

Moses was sinful, Christ is sinless (Deuteronomy 32:51,52; Hebrews 4:15).

Moses brought only the patterns of things to come, Christ the realities.

Moses' miracles were inferior to those of Christ, as in the changing of the water already noted, and because Christ raised the dead.

Moses delivered from physical bondage, Christ from the spiritual bondage of sin.

Moses gave bread from heaven to sustain physical life, Christ bread from heaven that gives and sustains eternal life.

Moses appeared with Christ on the mount of transfiguration but was caught away, so that people saw "Jesus only" (Matthew 17:8).

Moses' mission pertained only to Israel, Christ's, ultimately, to the "whole creation" (Mark 16:15).

Moses was only a man; Christ was and is both God and man.

Moses' body was buried and saw corruption; Christ's was spared that by means of the resurrection.

Moses was not a high priest; Christ is the eternal High Priest.

It would be nearly impossible to note all of the contrasts which proved the absolute supremacy and superiority of Christ over Moses, but enough are listed to give some indication of it.

Verse 3
For he hath been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by so much as he that hath built the house hath more honor than the house.

This singles out the principal superiority of Christ over Moses and affords another glimpse of the deity and Godhead of Christ, making Christ to be the builder of the house in which Moses served. This is then a reiteration of those immense claims on behalf of Jesus Christ which were outlined in the first paragraph of the epistle. It was long centuries after God had built or established that house in which Moses served, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem; and the identification of Jesus in this verse as the builder of that house places him upon an equality with God. (See under 1:8).

One cannot pass this verse without regarding the essential unity of God's children in all ages. The Jewish system, no less than the Christian, was divine in its origin; and many New Testament passages emphasize the connection of Old Testament references with that new Israel which supplanted the old (1 Corinthians 10:6,11; Romans 15:4; John 5:39; Acts 17:2,3). It was in view of this unity that Jesus said,

And ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves cast forth without. And they shall come from the east and west, and from the north and south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God (Luke 13:28,29).

This basic unity of God's heavenly establishment, changed though the covenant was, is attested by the deliberate judgment of mankind in binding both the Old and New Testaments into a single volume to form the Bible. Respect to such a unity does not contradict the fact of progression in the will of God as he moved to abolish the old covenant and establish the new.

Verse 4
For every house is builded by some one; but he that built all things is God.

This verse is engraved in letters of stone over the principal portal of the Central Church of Christ, Houston, Texas. The thought expressed is a teleological thunderbolt; it is the ancient and indestructible argument from design, bluntly and unequivocally stated, first in the truism that every house has a builder, and secondly in the deduction that the far greater house of the whole universe likewise has its builder who can be none other than God. A noted research chemist, Thomas David Parks, said:

I see order and design all about me in the inorganic world. I cannot believe that they are there by the haphazard, fortunate coming together of atoms. For me this design demands an intelligence; and this intelligence I call God. F1

Christians ought not to be ashamed of the argument from design; for here it is in the word of God itself, commending itself to the unbiased mind, and standing absolutely uncontradicted by any vaunted achievements of science. The most determined atheist, in his tenderest and most thoughtful hours, cannot escape the persuasive eloquence of that argument from design which demands a Designer. An excellent instance of this is documented in the experience of Whittaker Chambers, who for a while was a militant atheist, but who yielded to the tender whispers of this argument when God spoke to him through the fantastic beauty and loveliness of his little daughter's ear. Chambers was a dedicated Communist; but after he was enlightened, he gave a touching account of how that first ray of light penetrated his soul. Here are his words:

My daughter was in her high chair. I was watching her eat. She was the most miraculous thing that had ever happened in my life. I liked to watch her even when she smeared porridge on her face or dropped it meditatively on the floor. My eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear - those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through my mind: "No, these ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been created only by immense design." The thought was involuntary and unwanted, I crowded it out of my mind. But I never wholly forgot it or the occasion. I had to crowd it out of my mind. If I had completed it I should have had to say: Design presupposes God. I did not then know that, at that moment, the finger of God was laid upon my forehead. F2

The interrelation between design and the Designer is a fact observable alike by a little child or the wisest man who ever lived. A three-year-old will ask, "Mommy, who made the cow?" And the simple question simply means that intelligence that has not been corrupted accepts the argument from design as truth; and the axiomatic nature of that truth was affirmed twice in the word of God: "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God" (Psalms 14:1; 53:1). "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalms 19:1).

Verse 5
And Moses indeed was faithful in all his house as a servant, as a testimony of those things which were afterward to be spoken.

This designation of Moses as a servant is founded on the word of God himself (Numbers 12:7); and this entitled the author of Hebrews to conclude that Moses was not the great lawgiver through any power and ability of himself alone, but that it was his capacity as God's representative and as a vessel for the conveyance of God's message that his noble work was achieved. Furthermore, Moses delivered the Christian system embryonically, as well as the Judaic. In the prophecies about Christ, in the minute details of the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and in the definite instructions for all the feasts, sacrifices, and ceremonies of the Judaic system, all so faithfully delivered by Moses, the entire body of truth delivered by Moses foretold and eventually proved the redemptive ministry of Christ. The Christian system is contained prophetically in the old. Moses did not merely deliver the Judaic system of religion; but, in the sense that the flower is contained in the bud, he delivered the Christian system also, identified in this verse as "those things afterward to be spoken." Westcott stated it thus:

The position of Moses and of the Mosaic dispensation was provisional. Moses not only witnessed to the truths which his legislation plainly declared, but also to the truths which were to be made plain afterward. F3

Verse 6
But Christ as a son, over his house; whose house we are, if we hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm unto the end.

Reiterating the supremacy of Christ, the author, on the basis of a bold deduction, names Christians themselves as components of God's house, "whose house we are"! The old Israel is no more. The Son having been revealed, men are no longer under a servant, even so true and faithful a servant as Moses (Romans 2:28; 9:6-8; Galatians 6:15; John 8:39). Think of the house of God. He laid the foundations of it, even before the world was (1 Corinthians 2:7), provided the blue prints of it in the dispensation of Moses, and extended it upward and outward to include all the families of man in the church of Christ; and, finally, he shall present all to himself in that glorious fulfillment of the everlasting kingdom at the last day (2 Peter 1:11).

If we hold fast our boldness
emphasizes the necessity of perseverance in the Christian life, if one is to win the crown. Bruce wrote:

The conditional sentences of this epistle are of special attention (Hebrews 3:14; 10:26). Nowhere in the New Testament more than here do we find such repeated insistence of the fact that continuance in the Christian life is the test of reality. F4

Bruce might have meant by that comment that a failure to continue means there was no reality to begin with, such being the thesis of Calvinism; but continuity must be viewed as a divinely imposed condition of salvation, upon the fulfillment of which destiny depends. Roddy put it squarely thus,

There is no shallow "once saved always saved" here. No superficial being saved and lost, in and out, experience either. But a realization that the evidence of the reality of the grace of God in the life is a constant and living faith regardless of circumstances and inward questions. F5

The climate for the proper maintenance of faith is not exclusively produced by, nor does it depend solely upon, external conditions. On the other hand, it must be aided by and controlled by the attitude of the believer himself, who has the power to further and strengthen his own faith by a constant, bold, and optimistic proclamation of it. Thomas was aware of this when he wrote:

Weakness is a spiritual peril; and this emphasis on boldness and glorying is a significant reminder that only as we continue courageous and confident can we expect to be firm unto the end. There is an old saying about "whistling to keep up the courage"; and there is no doubt that in things spiritual the secret of courageous and steadfast living is to be bold and to glory constantly in our Christian hope. F6

Thus there devolves upon the believer himself a frightful responsibility for the preservation and development of his own faith; and this coincides with the fact that faith, rather than being exclusively intellectual, also rests upon and flows out of moral considerations of the highest order (John 3:19).

Verses 7-11
Wherefore, even as the Holy Spirit saith, Today, if ye shall hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, Like as in the day of the trial in the wilderness, Where your fathers tried me by proving me, And saw my works forty years. Wherefore, I was displeased with this generation, And said, They do always err in their heart: But they did not know my ways; As I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.


The quotation here is from Psa. 95:7ff and introduces the second of a series of exhortations designed to bolster the lagging faith of the Hebrew Christians and to warn them against apostasy, the warning being strongly reinforced by the appeal to the analogous falling away which took place in that generation which entered the wilderness after their deliverance from Egypt but were cut off from entering the promised land. Note the attribution of this Psalm of the Holy Spirit. David, as the human instrument through whom the words came, is not mentioned; and thus the author of this epistle takes his place alongside other New Testament writers in making God the author of the Old Testament (2 Peter 1:21).

The experience of Israel in the wilderness of wanderings was indelibly engraved upon the conscience of all the Jews, especially regarding the failure to enter the promised land, the shameful record of which was outlined expressly in their scriptures (Exodus 17; Numbers 13-14; Deuteronomy 9:10). Thus the warning in this place is dramatically intensified by an appeal to the historic disaster that prevented a whole generation from entering Canaan.

Today, if ye shall hear his voice
is an appeal for action NOW. The consequences of failure are so supremely tragic, and the tendency to procrastination so universal, that action is demanded now, today. One steals who presumes upon tomorrow; tomorrow belongs to God; "Behold now is the acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2). The statement of Paul underlines the fact that life does not come to people a day at a time, but a moment at a time; hence, NOW is the day of salvation. And why today? (1) People have waited long enough already. (2) There may never be a tomorrow for any man. (3) The difficulty of obedience is only multiplied and compounded by delay. (4) God has commanded obedience NOW. (5) The impulse to respond or obey may diminish or disappear. (6) Subsequent obedience (even if it comes) may not be as effectual and fruitful. (7) There is no better time than NOW to do the Father's will.

If you hear his voice
raises the question of how God's voice may be heard today; and following are some suggested answers: (1) the voice of God through the holy scriptures as read or preached; (2) the admonitions of faithful loved ones and friends; (3) through conscience which, however depraved, must inevitably retain some vestiges of regard for duty toward God; (4) through the message of God as revealed by consideration of the creation in the light of reason; (5) through God's providential blessings upon every man; and (6) through the spiritual hunger that rises in every heart and which instinctively reaches for a knowledge of God and longs for his approval.

Harden not your hearts
is another admonition that affixes the responsibility and blame for hardness of heart upon the hardened himself. Only in the sense of his permitting it, is it ever correct to believe that God hardens hearts. True, the Old Testament states that God "hardened Pharaoh's heart" (Exodus 7:13); but the next verse declares that Pharaoh was STUBBORN. The same sunshine melts butter and hardens concrete; and the same gospel saves some and destroys others (2 Corinthians 2:12). People's hearts are hardened by continuing in sin, procrastination, and by the gradual atrophy of spiritual perception brought on by the practice of disobedience. People may go a little at a time, further and further into sin, until finally they become hardened and confirmed in their rebellion against God. Even in such a state, one may, if he will permit it, be softened and healed by the word of God. How may the stony heart be broken? "Is not my word like a fire, saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock into pieces?" (Jeremiah 23:29).

Heb. 3:8 has been an interesting example of a couple of Hebrew proper names being translated as common nouns, Meribah and Massah, being rendered "provocation and temptation." This is due to the fact that the proper names given by Moses to the places where those sad episodes took place came, in time, to have a broader meaning (Exodus 1:7). There are many examples in all languages where such has occurred. For example, Quisling is the name of a Norwegian collaborator with the Nazi invaders which came to signify "traitor." F7

Forty years,
as mentioned in Heb. 3:9 and Heb. 3:17, would seem to be a delicate hint of the fact that when this author wrote, just about the same length of time, that is, forty years, had passed since the resurrection of Christ, and suggesting that the ancient defection of that generation of Israelites might be typical of what was threatening among the generation addressed in Hebrews. The word "works" in this place should be rendered in the singular, according to Westcott who observed that

The Hebrew is singular. The many works of God in the wilderness were all one work, one in essence and aim, whether they were works of deliverance or chastisement. Under this aspect acts of righteous judgment and of mercy were parts of the same counsel of loving discipline. F8

The "generation" mentioned in Heb. 3:10 is that of the Israelites who provoked God and were prohibited from entering the promised land. The question rises as to how their defection was applicable to the situation confronting the Christians to whom Hebrews was addressed. To be sure, all the things that happened to ancient Israel were ensamples for them that believe (1 Corinthians 10:1-11); but even more is apparently intended here. The whole typical structure of Israel corresponds to many facts and events in Christianity. The death of Christ is called "an exodus" (founded on Luke 9:31); Christ is the true Passover sacrifice for his people (1 Corinthians 5:7); he is the lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:19); Christians during their probation are said to be, like Israel of old, "the church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38); and, as Bruce pointed out:

Their (the Christians') baptism is the antitype of Israel's passage through the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:1ff); their sacrificial feeding on him (Christ) by faith is the antitype of Israel's nourishment with manna and the water from the rock (1 Corinthians 10:3ff); Christ, the living Rock, is their guide through the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:4); the heavenly rest that lies before them is the counterpart to the earthly Canaan which was the goal of the Israelites. F9

They do always err in their hearts; but they did not know my ways.
These two statements seem, at first, not to belong together; but the reason of their being connected was clearly explained by T. Brooks who wrote:

The proper remedy for crime is, therefore, the knowledge of God's ways. But we must not fall into the mistake of supposing that the knowledge of the ways of God signifies the being informed as to the purport of those laws. Here, as in many other parts of scripture, the word denotes approval by experience, as well as knowledge in the ordinary sense. F10

The physical death which overtook the lost generation in the wilderness was but a physical penalty for their rebellion against God; and, although they were never allowed to reacquire the lost advantage in the physical sense of entering Canaan, it may rightfully be supposed that all of them who repented and brought themselves into harmony with God's purpose still retained the hope of eternal life, Moses himself being a prime example of this. Far more dreadful, therefore, was the danger threatening the Hebrew Christians who, if they fell away, stood to suffer the loss of even "all spiritual blessings" that are in Christ.

I sware in my wrath
calls attention to God's making an oath; and although mentioned elsewhere by Zacharias (Luke 1:73), Peter (Acts 2:30), and Stephen (Acts 7:17), it is in Hebrews that this fact receives the greatest attention, there being no less than six references to it, the others being Heb. 3:18; 4:3; 6:13; 6:16; 7:21. Swearing on the part of God should be thought of in an accommodative sense; and such a concept is introduced here for the sake of emphasizing the absolutely eternal and irrevocable nature of God's judgments; and yet it cannot be accepted that God's oath is any stronger than his word, the thought being altogether anthropomorphic, since in the case of man, their swearing is said to increase the respect due their words.

They shall not enter into my rest
refers to the prohibition by which God refused admittance of Israel to Canaan and immediately loomed in the author's mind as a type of that rest the Hebrew Christians were in danger of forfeiting, a thought that he at once developed and made the basis of the remainder of this second admonition. The Greek margin (English Revised Version (1885)) shows these words to be literally, "if they shall enter into my rest"; but the context demands a translation of such an idiomatic phrase in words that cannot be mistaken. The common versions are therefore correct.

Verse 12
Take heed, brethren, lest haply there should be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God.

Five definite facts emerge from this verse: (1) that it is possible for Christians to fall away from the living God; (2) that such a disaster is due to an unbelieving heart; (3) that an unbelieving heart is evil (not merely `smart'); (4) that God is not a mere influence but a living person; and (5) that there are adequate grounds upon which a Christian may avoid falling away. The tenderness of the author appears in his use of "haply." Not wishing to write flatly that they were in mortal danger of being lost, he proposes such an awesome possibility as something that just might "haply" befall them. These words take up and illustrate the lesson of Psa. 95 which had just been quoted at length. The Psalm is divided into two parts, the first (Psalms 95:1-7) being a warning against the disobedience; and it is the second portion of the Psalm which the author quoted. The message of the entire Psalm is that people should worship God, but that mere worship, unaccompanied by obedience, will not avail. Regarding the possibility of apostasy so forcibly mentioned here, it should be noted that the Bible nowhere authorizes any confidence to the contrary. Apostasy comes under consideration again in Heb. 6:1-8, where from its treatment there, it cannot possibly be doubted that the author is warning his readers against a present real, and impending danger, a threat to any Christian who might allow an evil heart of unbelief to develop within him. Indeed, if there is no such thing as the possibility that a true child of God might fall away and be lost, how could the author of this epistle have introduced such a subject, and how could he have warned them to "take heed" against a non-existent danger?

An evil heart of unbelief
contains another intimation of the moral basis of faith. Unbelief does not exist apart from antecedent evil in people's hearts. Christ said, "And this is the judgment, that light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil" (John 3:19). People who have accepted the truth and are actually in the faith of Christ, if they do not live up to the moral requirements of that faith, become alienated from it, grow to despise and hate it, and at last find themselves in rebellion against God.

The living God
identifies the God of the Christians as the creator, upholder, and governor of all the universe; and this expression is used several times in the New Testament. It featured Peter's noble confession (Matthew 16:16); Caiaphas used it when he administered an oath to Jesus (Matthew 26:63); it was frequently in the writings of Paul (Romans 9:26; 2 Corinthians 3:3; 6:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Timothy 3:15; etc.); and the apostle John saw an angel "having the seal of the living God" (Revelation 7:2). It is extremely appropriate that the Being within whom the life principle is self-contained, and whose existence is eternally in the present tense ("I that I AM" - Exodus 3:14), should be called the living God.

Verse 13
But exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called Today; lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

The Greek pronoun rendered here "one another" is variously translated in the New Testament, as in "be at peace AMONG YOURSELVES" (1 Thessalonians 5:14); "Fervent in your love AMONG YOURSELVES" (1 Peter 4:8); "And be ye kind ONE TO ANOTHER" (Ephesians 4:32); and "Forbearing ONE ANOTHER and forgiving EACH OTHER" (Colossians 3:13). Thus the persons so strongly commanded in this place to "exhort" and the persons to be exhorted can be none other than the Christian membership itself, and that as manifested in their most intimate personal relationships, such as families, congregations, fellow-workers, and close associates of every kind.

Is this commandment heeded today? It is strongly to be feared that it is forsaken. How many families must there be where there is no daily exhortation to faithfulness in Christ! How many people work side by side without ever knowing if a fellow-worker is even a Christian or not and who for months or years never mention either God or religion, except, perhaps, profanely! When this writer was once minister of Central Church of Christ, Houston, Texas, a brother placed his membership with that church one Sunday; and, for the first time, another brother in that same church learned that he had daily worked side by side with that other man for two years in a synthetic rubber plant. These people attended different congregations until the time mentioned; and neither of them had the slightest idea that the other was a Christian!

Why do not Christians exhort one another daily, as commanded? (1) Some perhaps fail through natural timidity, but that is a weakness that should not be allowed to stand. Let people overcome their timidity and exhort their fellow-workers. (2) Some are ashamed of Christ. Why those long weeks of deathly silence, wherein even some parents speak no loving words of exhortation? No wonder children grow up asking in their hearts, "Do they really believe it?" Such a reticence can be attributed to one's being ashamed of Christ. (3) Still others have accepted a notion that it is impolite to speak of Christ, or faith, or religion; and, although it is possible that there are occasions or circumstances in which true politeness might omit the type of exhortation commanded here, yet this commandment is directed squarely at members of the family of God, Christians, and is applicable to all of them in the every day associations of life, like those in the family, in business, and in recreation. (4) Broken or mixed families, in a religious sense, are another deterrent. When unbelieving partners are linked with Christians, the daily exhortations are infinitely more difficult, if not impossible; and the loss of the spiritual benefit that would normally accrue from them is tragic, first in the life of the Christian partner, and secondly in the lives of the children.

The overwhelming power of the admonition delivered by the Holy Spirit in this paragraph is seen in the rules, or techniques laid down, by which a truly successful Christian life may be achieved and strengthened. Strangely enough, both of these directives lean heavily toward self-help! First, the man who would wish to continue as a Christian should boldly speak of his faith, glorying in it every day, and seizing every possible chance to extol his love and appreciation of God, the sweetness of service in Christ, and every other joy and benefit of salvation (Hebrews 3:6). The second of these rules is in Heb. 3:13; and it commands the entire Christian community, whether in the family, the congregation, or in other close and intimate contact, to "exhort one another day by day."

Lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin ...
The hardening of the heart through sin's deceit is a danger enhanced by the fact that "The heart is deceitful above all things" (Jeremiah 17:9). Charles Spurgeon, as quoted in Biblical Illustrator, noted that "When these two deceitful ones lay their heads together to make up a case, there is no wonder if man, like a silly dove, is taken in their net." F11 The deceit of sin and also the deceit of the heart combine to visit ruin in people's lives. People's deceitful hearts subconsciously desire to be deceived, thus making the deception far easier and more extensive than otherwise. The deceitfulness of sin extends to every conceivable phase of it. Sin promises the transgressors happiness, only to plunge him in sorrow. It promises joy, but delivers wretchedness, shame, misery, and remorse. It promises liberty, but binds the sinner with the most disgusting chains of slavery. It promises light, but submerges the soul in outer darkness. It promises knowledge, as in the case of Adam and Eve, but provides with that knowledge a devastating sense of shame, guilt, and bitterness. Yes, sin deceives. It promises to be nothing serious. It mocks the ship of Alexandria with the gentle zephyrs of the south wind (Acts 27:13), only to smite with the full fury of Euraquilo when the unwary ship has ventured out of its haven. It feints with the right and devastates with the left.

Verse 14
For we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end.

On this verse, Albert Barnes inquired:

What else can be said so honorable of a man as that he "is a partaker of Christ," that he shares his feelings here, and that he is to share his honors in a brighter world? Compared with this, what is it to participate with the rich and the gay in their pleasures; what would it be to share in the honors of kings and conquerors? F12

The union of Christ and his members provides the entire foundation of their hope. Those who believe and obey Christ partake of his righteousness, by imputation; receive the judicial discharge from their sins, by means of his sacrifice; and look forward to entering heaven itself by having become members of his spiritual body the church.

Here again, as in Heb. 3:6, is given the necessity for believers to continue faithfully and enthusiastically "to the end"; what end? Any end whatsoever! Perhaps the words "to the end" are unspecific on purpose in order to cover a range of meanings such as: (1) the end of a particular period of temptation; (2) the end of life; (3) the end of the world; and (4) perhaps even "the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls" (1 Peter 1:9). Such expressions as this, seeming at first to be indefinite, are often far richer in meaning than a more specific statement would have been.

Regarding the word "confidence," its rather broad meaning accentuates the unity of this verse with the statement in Heb. 3:6, "glorying of our hope." In fact, "confidence" contains the thought of "glorying"; and this is indicated by the translation "in this confidence of glorying" (2 Corinthians 11:17). Westcott said, "It is used by the Greek writers for firmness under torture; and generally for courageous firmness of character." F13

Verse 15
While it is said, Today if ye shall hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.

While it is said, Today
means persevere as long as life lasts, or as long as there is any today. Since this is a quotation from Psalm 95:7, it is possible the author means, "As long as the Bible says Today." The rest of this verse is parallel to Heb. 3:8 to which the reader is referred for notes.

Verse 16
For who, when they heard, did provoke? nay, did not all they that came out of Egypt by Moses?

Here is a solemn warning against trusting in a majority or what is popular. The author pointedly reminds his readers that the wilderness failure of Israel was on a national scale, supported by the overwhelming majority, and popularly led and advocated by the great princes of Israel (Numbers 13:3-16). The statement that "all they" rebelled is hyperbole, exaggeration for the sake of emphasis; and, while it is true that Caleb and Joshua refused to be with the majority and survived to enter Canaan, "The exception was so small that the apostle had no scruple in saying that they all provoked God by their disobedience," as Barnes put it. F14 The exception was so small that the names of only two have come down through history as repudiating the majority.


The tragic case of that lost generation in the wilderness is of epic proportions. They had begun so gloriously, led of God himself, seeing their enemies humbled by a series of shocking plagues, crossing the Red Sea on dry land, arming themselves from the wreckage of Pharaoh's drowned army, engaging in the most dramatic instantaneous exodus of all time, overcoming all obstacles, and singing the songs of triumph and victory; how could they have failed after all that? If so fantastic a beginning could be nullified by ultimate defeat, surely the apparent reasons for it should be of the most definite concern for believers in all ages. And what are those reasons? (1) They had a morbid fear of hunger and other looming dangers. The relative security of their lives as slaves seemed preferable to the unknown dangers ahead. People have always counted it a privilege to fight and die for liberty, if need be; but here was a generation that simply could not bring themselves to do it. (2) They exaggerated the dangers that confronted them, saying, "The land eateth up the inhabitants thereof" (Numbers 13:32). (3) They failed to manifest that essential self-respect which is an ingredient of all success, saying, "We were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight" (Numbers 13:33). One might call that "the grasshopper complex" and find a great many examples of it today. (4) They accepted the majority report brought in by the ten unfaithful spies. The multitude of Israel looked at the ten instead of the two, blindly following the majority, feeling that wisdom was in that course, and unaware until too late that ignorance, defeat, folly and death lay with the majority. People of the present day are confronted with exactly the same danger. What do the majority say about God, Christ, the church, baptism, the Lord's Supper, Christian living, sobriety, virtue, prayer, and piety? Concerning majorities, people should have the courage of Caleb and Joshua. They should have the grace to accept the sentiments of an old motto once said to be over the gates of the University of Glasgow; "What do they say? Who are they? Who cares?" (5) The most important and all-encompassing reason for their failure was their unbelief, a condition bluntly noted in Heb. 3:19 and Heb. 4:2, below. Instead of glorying in their faith and exhorting one another daily to maintain it, they permitted themselves to drift away from it, until in an evil hour they found themselves in a state of rebellion against God.

Verse 17
And with whom was he displeased forty years? was it not with them that sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?

The writer continues to focus upon the overwhelming disaster that befell Israel in the wanderings, again mentioning the forty-year duration of the offense, as in Heb. 3:9, and stressing the summary judgment of death upon an entire generation. The holy antagonism of God toward all sin is seen in the fact that so extensive and final a penalty was invoked; but also the heavenly mercy and forbearance of God are observed, not only in that forty-year period of his sublime patience with Israel, but in his waiting until they all died of natural causes rather than directly by divine flat. That Israel deserved to die instantly for their sin appears in the fact that God was ready thus to punish them but yielded to the intercession of Moses (Exodus 32:32). It has already been noted that this physical judgment against them did not compromise their right of eternal salvation, based upon their faith, repentance and obedience subsequent to their apostasy. (See under Hebrews 3:8). Also, in contrast, the Hebrew Christians, by their apostasy, would incur an even more terrible penalty in that they stood to forfeit heaven itself.

Verse 18
And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that were disobedient?

The Book of Hebrews makes a great thing of obedience, affirming that even Christ was made perfect by it (Hebrews 5:8,9) and that the salvation he authored is "unto all them that obey him"; and also marking especially the obedience of so illustrious a person as Abraham (Hebrews 11:8). In this verse, disobedience is made the basis of God's denying Israel the right to enter Canaan, the "rest" spoken of being a reference to their dwelling in that good land, rather than a mention of the sabbath day, the sabbath day, of course, being a rest that they did actually receive and enjoy throughout their whole history. In spite of the fact that the KJV translates this verse "believed not" instead of "disobedient," the English Revised Version (1885) is far preferable. Unbelief is indeed a sin, damning and destructive enough; but it is followed by overt and willful actions against the laws of God, such actions being of themselves fatal to the receiving of God's approval, no matter if founded in unbelief, as Israel's were, or not. One of the great heresies of the Reformation appeared in the doctrine of salvation by "faith alone" and the attendant notion that the only sin, actually, is unbelief. See more on this under Heb. 11:6.

Verse 19
And we see that they were not able to enter in because of unbelief.

And we see
is a transitional phrase which means, "We see in the familiar record of the Pentateuch," or "We see in the details just mentioned." This passage shows that the exclusion of Israel grew out of moral necessity, their unbelief having betrayed them into outright rebellion against God. The application, of course, is that, if God spared not them, neither will he spare Christians guilty of the same conduct.

That lost generation of the Israelites suffered incredible hardships in the wilderness, being subject to the incursions of armed enemies, enduring hunger and thirst and wretchedness, being exposed to the sickening agonies inflicted by poisonous serpents, finding no certain habitation, marching every day of their lives in step with frustration, disease and death. And yet it all could have been different. God gave them the right to enter Canaan immediately upon their coming out of Egypt, but through unbelief and disobedience they failed to enter, Never, perhaps, in human history is there so clearly outlined a case in which the religious and spiritual failures of a people issued so promptly and irrevocably in their temporal and physical poverty as well, leaving the lesson for all to see. Moffat commented on this in these words,

The world at large may ridicule the idea that a man's spiritual standing can have the remotest connection with the success or failure which may attend his pursuit of temporal objects: and we are far enough from alleging that the maintenance of religious principle will necessarily insure the prosperous issue of every enterprise; but its absence may, at any time, throw obstacles in the way which might not, under other circumstances, require to be encountered; and when we find that unbelief and nothing else was the cause of the exclusion of so many Israelite wanderers from the choice and productive land of Canaan, we seem to read, in characters so plain that only willful error can mistake their meaning, the great truth that the earthly prospects of all may be materially and even vitally affected by the possession or the want of faith. F15

Footnotes for Hebrews 3
: Ibid.
1: Thomas David Parks, The Evidence of God in an Expanding Universe (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1958), p. 74.
2: Whittaker Chambers, Witness (New York: Random House, 1952), p. 16.
3: Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965), p. 77.
4: F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 59.
5: Clarence S. Roddy, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1962), p. 41.
6: W. H. Griffith Thomas, Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 41.
7: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1961 Edition, Vol. 18, p. 885.
8: Brooke Foss Westcott, op. cit., p. 81.
9: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 62.
10: T. Brooks, The Biblical Illustrator (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1967), Hebrews, Vol. I, p. 245.
11: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Biblical Illustrator (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1967), p. 264.
12: Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1963), Vol. Hebrews, p. 88.
13: Brooke Foss Westcott, op. cit., p. 85.
14: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 91.
15: H. B. Moffatt, The Biblical Illustrator (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1967), p. 287.
16: Adam Clarke, op. cit., p. 696.
17: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 46.
18: R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 88.
19: R. Milligan, New Testament Commentary (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1962), p. 98.
20: Hal Borland, Homeland (Philadelphia and New York: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1969), p. 115.
21: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 49.
22: Joseph S. Exell, op. cit., p. 164.
23: Robert L. Cargill, op. cit., p. 23.
24: Joseph S. Exell, op. cit., p. 162.
25: R. Milligan, op. cit., p. 101.
26: A. T. Robertson, op. cit., p. 351.
27: R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 94.
28: Thomas Hewitt, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1960), p. 17.
29: Robert L. Cargill, op. cit., p. 25.
30: Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 273.
31: R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 967.
32: E. Earle Ellis, op. cit., p. 895.
33: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 396.
34: Adam Clarke, op. cit., p. 666.
35: Ibid.
36: S. J. Eales, op. cit., p. 4.
37: Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 274.
38: E. Earle Ellis, op. cit., p. 895.
39: John B. Nielson, op. cit., p. 708.
40: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 412.
41: E. Earle Ellis, op. cit., p. 895.THE BOOK OF HEBREWS
42: H. D. M. Spence, op. cit., p. 183.
43: William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 87.
44: Ibid.
45: Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. VI (London: Carlton and Porter, 1829), p. 213.
46: Newport J. D. White, op. cit., p. 102.
47: F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), p. 113.
48: A. S. Peake, op. cit., p. 543.
49: F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), p. 109.
50: A. S. Peake, op. cit., p. 531.
51: Ibid., p. 532.
52: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 983.
53: Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 111.
54: William Hendriksen, op. cit, p. 88 footnote.
55: James Burton Coffman, The Mystery of Redemption (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1976).
56: Ernest G. Ashby, op. cit., p. 486.
57: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 436.
58: B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 63.
59: David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles, Vol. IV (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1964), p. 194.
60: B. C. Carlin, op. cit., p. 64.
61: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 437.
62: William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 141.
63: Ibid., p. 143.
64: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 974.
65: Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 769.
66: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 50.
67: Ibid., p. 48.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Hebrews 3". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  


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