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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2

Analysis

Although from the superior excellence above the Angels, and from the divine attributes which the Apostle claimed for Christ in the two preceding chapters, would evidently follow his superiority over Moses; still, such was the high opinion which the Hebrews entertained regarding the latter, that the Apostle finds it necessary to institute a comparison between him individually and Christ. This he does in the first six verses of this chapter. In thus establishing the superiority of Christ, he destroys one of the grounds on which the false teachers founded the superior excellence of the Mosaic Law (7).

In the next place, he deters the Hebrews from the crime of apostasy, by proposing to them the example of their incredulous fathers, excluded from the Land of Promise in punishment of their incredulity, and dwells, in the remainder of the chapter, on the explanation and application of the prophetic menace contained in Psalm 94.

Paraphrase

1. Wherefore, brethren, being sanctified by baptism and called to a state of sanctity, shares in the heavenly vocation to which Christ has invited us, cease to regard Moses any longer, and look up to Jesus Christ; consider how great he is, the Apostle, by whom was announced the faith which you profess, and the Pontiff by whom it was consecrated, and rendered efficacious;

2. Who is as faithful in discharging the duties of this twofold office of Apostle and Pontiff according to the will of God, by whom he was constituted one and the other, as was Moses, whom the Scripture commends for his fidelity (Numbers, 12:7), in dispensing the concerns of the entire house of God, i.e., of the synagogue.

3. In instituting a comparison between Jesus Christ and Moses, it is not meant to insinuate that between both there was an equality; for, in point of glory due to him, Jesus is as far above Moses, as the architect who builds a house, is above the house itself, in regard to the relative degree of honour due to each.

4. For, every house has some founder; Jesus Christ, therefore, the Eternal Son of God, being the Architect of the world, and of all things it contains, is the founder of the synagogue, and consequently infinitely superior to Moses.

5. Moses, it is true, governed the entire house of God with great prudence and fidelity, but it was only in the capacity of servant, in testifying and announcing to the people the divine ordinances.

6. But Christ acted as Son and governed as Master, not in the house of another, but in his own; which house or family, we Christians aggregated to his Church by faith, constitute; this, however, will ultimately avail us only on condition of our persevering, and firmly retaining to the end, the intrepid profession of our faith, and of that hope in which we glory.

7. Wherefore, since in order to profit ultimately by your present privileges in belonging to the family of God, you must persevere in the faith; let me address you in the moving words, addressed by the Holy Ghost through the mouth of David, to your fathers: “To-day if you shall hear his voice,” either through the preaching of the prophets, or by interior inspiration.

8. Render not your hearts hard, insensible, and callous to the impressions of divine grace, as happened your fathers in the place called “provocation or contradiction,” on the day of temptation in the desert; therefore, called, temptation.

9. In which desert, says the Lord, they tempted me, proved and saw my wonderful works.

10. Wherefore, in consequence of these and other similar instances of incredulity and distrust, I was for the space of forty years offended with this generation, and I said within myself, these are always erring in heart, madly following the bent of their passions, and blind in intellect, not knowing or attending to the ways of my commandments, or of my miracles:

11. And, on this account, I have sworn in my wrath that they shall never enter the land in which I promised them rest.

12. Do you, therefore, brethren, take care, lest the heart of any of you be infected with the dreadful evil of infidelity, by which you would renounce, through apostacy, the living God.

13. But rather exhort and encourage one another to perseverance every day, whilst the term of time expressed by “to-day,” lasts, i.e., during this life (in which alone you can work); so that none of you become obdurate, owing to the false allurements of sin.

14. For, although we have been, by our incorporation with Christ in baptism, made partakers of his grace, and rightful heirs of his glory, having become a part of the mystical body of which he is head, we must still bear in mind, that all these privileges will avail us finally, only on condition of our perseverance to the end in the steady profession of faith, which is the basis and foundation of our new spiritual existence.

15. That is to say, whilst it is said to us: “To-day if you hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in that provocation,” in other words, during the course of our lives.

16. For, some of those who heard the voice of God, disobeyed, and by this disobedience provoked his wrath, but not all who left Egypt under the guidance of Moses (and, therefore, God was not angry with all).

17. With whom, then, was he angry for the period of forty years? Was it not with them who by their murmurs, incredulity, and temptation of God had sinned, whose bodies, in punishment thereof, were scattered unburied on the arid plains of the desert?

18. But to whom did he swear in his wrath, that they should never enter his rest? Was it not to those, who after witnessing so many prodigies of his power, still refused to believe his promises regarding this rest, and murmuring, wished to return to Egypt?—(Numbers, 14 verses 1, 2, 3).

19. And from the SS. Scriptures we see the fulfilment of this decree. On account of their unbelief, they could not enter the land promised to them.

Commentary

1. “Wherefore,” i.e., owing to all I have said of Christ, in the preceding chapters, “brethren” both by nature and Christian profession. “Consider,” i.e., worship with due reverence him, who has united, in his own person, the two-fold office of Apostle of Legate and Pontiff, filled by Moses and Aaron.

2. In point of fidelity the Apostle points out no disparity between Moses and Christ, “that made him,” i.e., that constituted him his divine Legate and Pontiff, “as was also Moses in all his house,” i.e., the synagogue. In Numbers, 12:7, it is said of Moses, “My servant, who is most faithful in all my house.”

3. This verse is connected with verse 1, thus:—“Consider the Apostle … Jesus,”—(1) for, he has been reputed (by God who judges justly) by so much the more deserving of glory beyond Moses, as the architect deserves to be honoured beyond the house which he built. Of course, while speaking in direct terms of a material house, the Apostle refers more especially to the mystic house of the Jewish synagogue, of which Moses, although he was its principal ruler, formed only a part; hence, as being only a part of it, he was created by Christ.

4. In this verse, is urged the point of disparity referred to in the preceding, so as to annihilate Moses in the comparison with Christ, the one being God, as was proved in chap. 1 verse 10—the other, a mere creature

5. Another point of disparity—Moses, indeed, acted faithfully in explaining to the people the ordinances of God, and bearing witness to the future Messiah (Deut. 18:15). This, however, was only in capacity of “servant.” The Greek word, θεραπων, is opposed to υἱος, son, next verse, for this latter word is equivalent to κυριος, master.—(Numbers, 14:7).

6. Whereas, Christ acted as son and master—and this not in another’s house or family, like Moses, but “in his own,” (in Greek, ἐπὶ τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ, over his own house), which house (in Greek, οὗ οἶκός, whose house) we and all the members of the Church constitute “if we hold fast,” i.e., the advantages resulting from our forming the spiritual house, which Christ governs, will ultimately serve us only on condition of our retaining firmly to the end “the confidence.” The Greek word, παρρησιαν, means, the intrepid freedom of speech, or profession of our faith; and “glory of hope,” in Greek, καυχημα, glorying of hope, or the hope in which we glory. The Hebrews, it appears, were faltering in their faith, and, owing to the pressure of present evils, were losing sight of future blessings, which form the object of Christian hope; hence, the Apostle devotes the remainder of this chapter, and the next, in deterring them from the crime of apostasy.

7, 8. Some Commentators suspend the sense from, “wherefore,” to “take heed” (verse 12), enclosing the prophetic oracle within a parenthesis. The connexion in the Paraphrase seems more simple and natural. “To-day, if you hear his voice,” &c.; these words are taken from Psalm 94 and are the words of David (chap. 4:7). This Psalm was composed by David, in all likelihood, on the occasion of some great festival in Jerusalem; it was recited during divine worship, and written for all times; hence, it is employed in the canonical hours at the commencement of the divine office, as an Invitatory, calling on us to adore God and sing his praises with greater fervour of soul. “If you shall hear his voice,” through what medium soever, be it internal, by inspiration, or external, by preaching, “harden not,” &c. “As in the provocation,” &c. These words are commonly supposed to refer to the occasion recorded (Exodus 17), when the people at Raphidim murmured against Moses for want of water, the place was, therefore, called “Meriba,” i.e., contention or contradiction, and “Massa,” “temptation,” two words, which are repeated in the Hebrew of this Psalm. Others say, there is reference to the 14th chapter of Exodus, when, on the return of the spies, the people having rebelled against Moses, God swore the oath referred to in the Psalm.

9. “Where,” (in Greek, οὖ, when), viz., in the desert, “tempted me.” The Psalmist adds greater force to his words by abruptly introducing God as speaking. One tempts God, when he unlawfully wishes for an extraordinary manifestation of his attributes, either in the order of nature or grace (v.g.), when he expects God to perform a miracle, in the order of nature or grace, to save him corporally or spiritually from the imminent peril to soul or body, to which he voluntarily and unnecessarily exposes himself. “Proved” (me, is added in the Greek). Some understand this word to mean the same as “tempted” so as merely to express a more minute degree of tempting God;—others refer it to the following, thus: they tempted me, although, after examining my stupendous miracles, (“proved”) they “saw,” that no exception could be taken to them.

10. Some connect “forty years” with the preceding, “they saw my works forty years.” “For which cause I was angry,” &c. It is better, however, connect it with the following (as in Paraphrase), because at the time of this oath on the part of God, they were not forty years out of Egypt. Moreover, in the 17th verse St. Paul joins it with “offended.” “For which cause,” i.e., therefore, “forty years I was offended.” For “offended” we read in the Roman Psaltery, “I was very near to,” but it will come to the same with the preceding; he “was very near to them,” to be an eye-witness of their infidelities and to punish them for the same. The Greek word, προσωχθισα, may be rendered in both ways; it literally means, to loathe, to be weary of. There is a difference between the Vulgate and the Roman Psaltery, which arose from this: the Council of Trent left the correction of the Missal and Breviary to the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff; and when the correction of the Breviary took place under Pius V., it was deemed right to retain the reading of the old Roman Psaltery in this Psalm, which was regarded as a hymn of Matins. This correction of the Breviary took place before the corrected edition of the Vulgate by Clement VIII.; therefore, no change was made in the words of the Breviary.

11. “As I have sworn,” &c. Some readings have, “to whom I swore;” both readings are good; the Hebrew word “asher” means “as” and “to whom”—“if they shall enter,” “if” in such cases has often the meaning of “not,” as in the oath of the people to save Jonathan, “if a hair of his head shall fall,” i.e., a hair, &c., shall not fall. And this, it would seem, was a familiar form of oath among the Jews: should, if, however, retain its ordinary meaning, then the imprecation, “may I not be God, may I be a liar,” or the like, is understood, and not expressed, through reverence for the person of God. The Apostle applies this Psalm to the faithful of his day; and in his reasoning, it regards the whole term of this life. These words of David are not confined to his own day. The man who at any time hardens his heart and becomes incredulous, will never enter into God’s rest. In the Psalm “my rest” immediately referred to the land of Chanaan.

12. “Take heed, brethren,” &c. From this salutary warning, it appears, that many among the Hebrews, yielding to the force of persecution and the errors of false teachers, were on the point of apostatizing from the faith. “The living God,” designates the true God, opposed to false gods, who have no life or existence.

13. “The deceitfulness,” i.e., the false allurements of sin, which, by withdrawing you from the true and substantial goods, and promising blessings and pleasures never to be realized, deceive you, and cause you to harden your hearts against the calls and impressions of divine grace. Hence, hardness and insensibility of heart are, oftentimes, the punishment of continuance in sin.

14. Let us encourage each other to perseverance, for our present advantages, our incorporation with Christ, will avail us only on condition of our perseverance. By “the beginning of his substance,” or (as the Greek word, υποστασεως, means) of his subsistence, is meant, faith; which is the root and foundation of all justification—Council of Trent—and the source from which we acquire a new spiritual existence, as it were, a new subsistence and personality, having become “a new creature.”—(Gal. 6:15).

15. This verse is connected with verse 14, and explains “unto the end,” by which is meant during our entire lives, signified by the words “to-day;” and he quotes the text to show that the same words are as applicable to them, who too may provoke God, as it was to their sinful fathers in the time of David; and that they should not imitate their fathers in irritating God; otherwise, they would meet with a similar punishment of exclusion from a land of eternal rest, of which Chanaan was merely a figure.

16. “For some,” &c.—“but not all,” not Caleb nor Josue, nor the Levites, nor the women, nor those who had not attained their twentieth year at the numbering of the people (Numbers, 1); and those, though few compared with the disobedient, were still a great multitude, whose example they should imitate in hope of obtaining a like reward.

Mauduit has laboured, in a long and learned Dissertation, to prove the incorrectness of the Vulgate reading of this verse (16). He says it should be read interrogatively, and composed of two numbers, the first of which would be the answer to the second, as in the following verses, thus: “quinam enim audientes exacerbaverunt? Nonne universi qui ex Egypto cum Moyse profecti?” “For, who are they, who hearing provoked him? Were they not all who left Egypt with Moses?” The reasons of his supposition are these:—First, according to the present Vulgate reading, we cannot see the connexion of this verse with the preceding, nor its utility in reference to the scope of the Apostle, which is to deter the Hebrews from the crime of apostasy, by pointing out to them from this (Psalm 94), the punishment inflicted on their fathers, for the same crime. Now, the present Vulgate reading would, according to him, by no means serve this purpose; it would rather weaken the argument by confining the murmurings and provocations to only some of the Jews of old. Secondly, it appears from the SS. Scripture (Numbers, 14, and Exodus, 17), that all did murmur, in punishment of which, out of six hundred thousand men, only two, viz., Caleb and Josue, entered the land of promise. Now, the exception only of two from so large a number as six hundred thousand, would not warrant the Apostle to make the particular proposition, “for some did provoke.” Moreover, he says the proposition, as it now stands in the Vulgate, is quite unmeaning, for after saying “some did provoke,” it is idle to add, “not all.”

In the next place, he establishes his own reading by showing that the Greek will admit of his view of the case; for by placing the acute accent on τίνες, instead of the grave τινἐς, it will mean “quinam,” as in his version of the words. Again, he says αλλ ου, which is interpreted “sed non” in the Vulgate, sometimes means “nonne,” and in proof of this, he adduces quotations from Lucian and Demosthenes. The Greek text, he asserts, is determined to either his meaning or the Vulgate reading by the accents, which were posterior to the translation of the Vulgate; and hence, the present accentuation of the Greek does not militate against him, as it had been made, merely in accordance with what was generally supposed to be the meaning of the words. He maintains that the reading of the two following verses favours his view of the case: for, in verses 16, 17, 18, is the passage from David analysed: in the 16th, is pointed out the extent of the “provocation.” which, he says, includes all who left Egypt, but this was not imputed to the children under twenty on account of their age; in the 17th, the meaning of “forty years,” &c.; and in the 19th, “to whom I swore,” &c.

The chief defect in the foregoing reasoning would seem to be the absence of sufficient proof that “all” did provoke God. Because, if the murmurings of those who had not reached their twentieth year, and who were not included in the six hundred thousand numbered, were not imputable to them, owing to their age, as Mauduit himself admits, how could he say that “all who left Egypt did provoke him?” for, though all murmured, according to him, still, he admits that this murmuring was not imputed to all: and hence “all” did not provoke him. And in truth, those under the age of twenty did enter the Land of Promise; it may, therefore, be held that all did not provoke him. The authority then of the Vulgate, and its conformity with almost every other version of SS. Scripture, as well as the universal agreement of all the ancients (Theophylact and St. Chrysostom excepted), together with the absence of proof on the part of Mauduit, that the Apostle, in the word “provocation,” refers exclusively to the six hundred thousand included in the numbering of the people, render the Vulgate reading the more tenable. Mauduit has not proved that the Apostle regards those only who were numbered after attaining their twentieth year; and hence, the greater part of his reasoning seems inconclusive. As to the apparent want of meaning, which he discovers in the Vulgate reading of the proposition, it may be said in reply, that the Apostle adds “but not all,” to vindicate the divine menace; for, it might be said, if all provoked, why not exclude all from his rest, but all did not provoke, and such as did not were admitted to his rest. And as to its effect on the Hebrews, they would be as strongly deterred by his saying “some provoked.” For, from their knowledge of SS. Scripture, they knew that the word “some” comprised the greater number of those who left Egypt; and, so, it was fully calculated to terrify them; he also adds “not all;” because neither the Levites, nor the women, nor the children were included.

In support of his view, Mauduit refers to (1 Cor. chap. 10); now, it would appear that the portion of Scripture referred to, if it prove anything, that is to say, if it refers at all to the occurrence of which there is question in this passage, proves against him; for, it is said (1 Cor. 10:5), “But with the most of them God was not pleased.” Whence it follows, that all did not provoke him; for if so, he would be displeased, not merely with “the most of them,” but with all.








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