Note: the Old Testament spelling, “Melchizedek” is used in the commentary throughout the chapter.
Orignally Published 7/18/2010
Heb 5:1 For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins:
The word, ordain, means to officially invest or establish by decree. The Greek is καθίσταται (kathístatai) from καθίστημι (kathístemi). It essentially means to set a person over a thing or to make that person in charge of the thing. Strong tells us it is permanent and denotes an active pursuit. Whereas histemi simply means to appoint, katíistemi (a combination of kata, down, and histemi, to set) means literally to set down. That means to give someone authority. A sergeant in the military is given authority commensurate with his rank. That authority is appointed to him by, that is, he is ordained by, his superior officers. The authority may be over a thing, a process, a specialty, etc., or over people. This word rendered ordained here gives just that meaning. The high priest is ordained or appointed by God Himself to have authority over religious things and over people. The high priest was in charge of all the priests, and he had a prominent position in government. In Christ’s time, the high priest had authority similar to a governor over the people.
The high priest was simply a man. But God called him out from among mankind to be set apart to minister to men in those things that are of God. In Israel, everything was of God. The government was a theocracy. The high priest’s purview was of religious things. He had charge over the tabernacle, the priests, the festivals, the offerings, and the sacrifices. He was the only one allowed to seek the redemption of God for the people. He was the intercessor between God and men. He offered sacrifices to God for the people thus providing for their deliverance from sin.
Heb 5:2 Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.
The ignorant are those who do not know. In current vernacular, ignorant connotes stupidity, which is the inability to learn. But that is not what the word really means. Ignorance is simply the lack of knowledge. I am ignorant of the process of making nuclear bombs. I could learn to make such devices, so I am not stupid. I have simply never learned to do so. Every person is ignorant of some things. No one can possess all the knowledge in the world. That is impossible. Each of us is ignorant of something. Here the Apostle is talking about those who commit sins in ignorance, not knowing they are sins.
The high priest, because he was taken from among men, may have compassion on those who are ignorant of their sins because he is ‘also compassed with infirmity’. Compassion means to sympathize with a person’s distress and to desire to ease that stress. Thee Greek means one who is not unduly disturbed by the errors, faults, or sins of others, but bears them gently. The high priest, because of his own faults, errors, or sins, can empathize with the sinner, and therefore can be gentle and helpful with the sinner. The high priest “knows the feeling”, to use an American idiom that essentially means empathy, and can therefore have sympathy for the person.
Infirmity means the weakness of the flesh, not the weakness for disease, injury, or sickness, but the weakness for sin. As the Psalmist says, “I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5) We are born in sin, the sin of Adam, and our entire lives are burdened with it. We have that tendency to sin, and the high priest has that same tendency. That is the infirmity spoken of here. We can be tempted by sin, and unfortunately we succumb to temptation easily. This is true in the life of the high priest so he can understand such tendency. This infirmity is present in us all. Even the pastor, elders, teachers, deacons, etc., have this infirmity. If anyone tells you he has not sinned, the truth is not in him. What do we call individuals who don’t have the truth in them? Liars. The infirmity is not sin, but the tendency to sin.
The truth is that all men are sinners and have always been. That is, all men except One. Christ was tempted just like we are yet He did not sin. Christ had that infirmity because He was human and could be tempted, yet he never sinned. Being tempted as we all are, He also can empathize with us.
Heb 5:3 And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.
Since the high priest was a sinner himself, he not only offered for the sins of others but he also had to offer for himself. In fact, before donning the mantle of high priest, the man had to be purified. Sacrifices were made for the sins of the high priest before he took on his duties. He also was required to symbolically purify himself by bathing with water. This is the forerunner of baptism. The high priest had to wash his hands and feet with water in front of the Tabernacle before beginning his duties ( Exodus 30:18-19 ). That is the purpose of the laver (basin of water) that stood in the courtyard of the tabernacle and later in the courtyard of the temple. The water it contained was used to wash the high priest. Before he could begin his duties, the high priest had to be cleansed of his iniquities, of which the washing is symbolic.
Heb 5:4 And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.
The high priest was called of God. He did not apply for the job. He did not seek the job. He was called. May I say that there are many men and women today who were interested in the vocation of ministry, and went to seminary to prepare for the ministry? Upon graduation from school they have taken jobs in church ministry positions and failed. Why did they fail? Because they were not called of God. I know such a man. In high school he decided to go into the pastoral ministry. He graduated from seminary with a master’s degree and accepted a pastoral position in a church. He failed in that vocation. Hence he went back to school, got another advanced degree, and now works in industry. Why is he not a pastor today? He chose the pastoral ministry for his profession, but God did not choose him for the pastoral ministry. He was not called.
The Greek word used here is the same one used by Jesus in the parable of the wedding of the king’s son (Matthew 22:2-14). The king sent his servants to bid his subjects to come to the wedding. But they would not come. So the king sent his servants to bid all who would to come to the wedding. Many came. The object of the parable is God’s relationship with his covenant people, Israel, and with the Gentiles. The bidding was calling. The Greek word is καλεω (kaleo). It means to be bidden or invited. When you go to a birthday party you have been invited. Otherwise you would have crashed the party, that is, you would have come uninvited. The one hosting the festivities is in charge of who is invited and who is not. An invitation, therefore, must come from someone beside you. You cannot invite yourself to a get together. The host of the get-together must invite you. If you crash the party then you are a trespasser who is subject to arrest and prosecution. You cannot simply decide for yourself to attend another’s gathering or you will be an intruder. The host must invite you.
It is the same God’s ministers. You simply cannot just decide to be a minister of God; you must be invited. If you are not invited, or called, you are an intruder and an impostor and God is not with you in your endeavor. The high priest was bidden by God to be high priest.
In my case, God called me into the ministry. I resisted His call for a long time, but God got hold of me just like He did Jonah. He made it impossible for me to do anything else but seek Him and listen for His bidding. I am compelled into the ministry. I have no other choice if I wish to remain content. I do not do it for money; my church is only able to pay me a small stipend. I do it for love of God and the ministry into which He has called me.
God placed me in ministry and then He educated me instead of educating me first and then placing me in ministry. Oh yes, He prepared me for ministry through the training and experience I received in my secular vocation. But I did not receive formal education in ministry until after I entered into ministry. I was invited and bidden to come. All true ministers of God have been invited and bidden to come and we have responded.
According to the parable above, God sends His invitation for salvation out into the highways, and gathers together as many can be found, both bad and good. The invitation to salvation is given to all. Unfortunately, only a few will respond.
Heb 5:5 So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.
Even Jesus the man did not take upon Himself the mantle of High Priest, but was bidden of God as the Psalmist said in Psalm 2:7 , quoted in this verse.
Heb 5:6 As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
Christ is a priest (our High Priest) forever, that is, into eternity. Paul1 quotes Psalm 110:4 . What is the order of Melchizedek2? He was “Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually” (Hebrews 7:3). The same could be said of Jesus. While He had an earthly mother, Mary, He was from everlasting to everlasting. As a man in the flesh He had a beginning and an end. But as the Eternal Word of God, he was without mother and father, without descent, and has neither beginning of days, nor end. The idea behind Melchizedek’s not having mother, father, descent or beginning or end, is that he could be compared with the Eternal Christ. The comparison, however, was not for the finite Jesus of Nazareth who had a definite beginning on earth and a definite end. As our Eternal High Priest, Jesus the Christ is the only Priest that can save us from our sins for eternity.
Heb 5:7 Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;
There is no indication in any of the Gospel that Jesus shed strong tears during His agony in Gesthemane. While there is the verse that states, “Jesus Wept,” which happened at Bethany shortly after the death of Lazarus, there is no mention of tears in the garden on the night before His Passion. But we are told, in Matthew 26:38, “Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.” This indicates His sorrow on that night, and tears often accompany sorrow. So it is implied that there may have been tears, but only implied and not explicitly stated. Here in Hebrews, the Apostle tells that Christ did indeed shed tears on that lonely night. He did cry out in supplications, saying, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Mathew 26:39). Later He cried “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” And later He cried in a loud voice, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” We also know that His sweat fell in “as it were great drops blood.” There is no reason to doubt that there were tears shed by Christ on that night as the Apostle tells us. We know he prayed for a portion of His prayer is recorded in John 17 .
Note the phrase, “who in the days of His flesh”. Let us refer to the previous verse, which tells of His eternity. He had no beginning or end, no lineage, and no parents “after the order of Melchizedek.” Here Paul speaks of His humanity, while in the previous verse he speaks of Jesus’ Eternity. In His humanity he had parents, lineage, beginning and end. In His humanity He also suffered.
This verse also tells that God heard Him in His prayers. We know that God heard them via Luke 22:43, “And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.” Shortly after this He was arrested in the Garden.
Heb 5:8 Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;
First, what did Christ suffer? He suffered the agony of the torture inflicted upon His body and He suffered death. But there was even greater suffering. He suffered from knowing that the weight of the sins of the entire age would be upon Him and He would be required to pay for those sins.
The work rendered “learned” here is εμαθεν (emathen) which is the second aorist active indicative of μανθάνω(mantháno), which basically means, “to learn.” Second person simply means ‘He learned’ as opposed to ‘I learned.’ Aorist indicates it happened that one time but does not imply its completion or continuation. Active is ‘he learned’ versus passive, which is ‘learned by Him’. Indicative tells us this is an objective fact. A secondary definition of mantháno is, ” to learn by use and practice.” The aorist seems to indicate that this learning happened fully at the time. Therefore it seems likely that this means he learned this obedience by experience. So he experienced and practiced this obedience by doing the will of His Father. But what can we say of obedience? Jesus was always obedient to the Father and He obeyed here. He never disobeyed. He practiced obedience by suffering the cross and its associated agonies.
There is a play on the words in this verse in the Greek. The play is “εμαθεν αφ ων επαθεν την υπακοην” (emathen aph ōn epathen tān hupakoān), “He learned because of that suffering the obedience.” Note ‘emathen . . . epathen.’ They rhyme. ‘Emathen means “He learned” and epathen means “suffering.” The play is thus: He learned. He suffered.
Another way to view this verse is that He, being the Eternal Word, had never nor could He ever have, experienced the same sufferings as man. So as the Son of Man, he learned obedience as a man. In other words, he experienced this obedience and these sufferings as only a human man in the flesh could. He learned obedience in the way a flesh man would have to obey. This way it can be truly said that he was qualified to be our High Priest because, as we were told in verse 2, He could have compassion on us having experienced the flesh Himself.
Heb 5:9 And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;
As a man, He was made perfect by completion of His Father’s will-He died on the cross. He was raised in a perfect body and this resurrection from the dead forever paying all men’s sin debt. He was eternal. He became a man. He died and was raised. He became eternal again. By His work, He became the creator, or author, of eternal salvation.
Heb 5:10 Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.
Christ had no beginning or end, which is symbolized by our lack of knowledge of Melchizedek’s birth, lineage, and death. Because we do not know of Melchizedek’s lineage, he symbolizes being eternal. Jesus the Eternal became a man, a finite person with both a beginning and an end. After His work on the cross, He became once again after the order of Melchizedek, meaning He is eternal.
Not material to our study is the fact that some believe that Melchizedek was an Old Testament appearance of Christ. For more on this see the study, Melchizedek.
Heb 5:11 Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.
Here we have a definite subject change. In fact, it is a digression. Paul returns to the teaching on the subject of Melchizedek again in chapter 7. But he speaks about the lack of spiritual maturity of his readers with earnestness and strong caution about their lack from this verse until the twentieth verse of the next chapter (6).
The Apostles had much to say about the eternal priesthood and about Christ the High Priest on the order of Melchizedek, but were at times either unable to say them or had a difficult time saying those things because of the inability of many to discern what they were saying. They were dull of hearing, meaning they could not hear these things because their state of spiritual maturity was lacking. Or they simply did not have open their spiritual ears but were stuck on the basics of salvation.
Hebrews 5:12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
The people to whom these remarks were addressed should have been teachers themselves except for the fact that they were not well versed enough in Christian doctrine to do so. They had been Christians long enough to be able to teach but themselves needed to be taught the rudiments of Christianity again. Paul calls them the first principles of the teaching of God. They are delineated in the next verses. These first principles are described by the metaphor of babes ingesting milk before they are able to ingest solid food (strong meat). The Greek for strong meat is στερεας τροφης (stereas trophās). Stereas means ‘solid’ and trophās means “nourishment’ or ‘food’.
Hebrews 5:13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
Those who drink (the word rendered ‘useth’ can be rendered ‘eat’ or ‘drink’) only milk and eat no solid food are unskilled in reading, understanding, and teaching the Word of God. Such a person is a babe in Christ, that is, one who never gets past the salvation stage into spiritual maturity.
Hebrews 5:14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
Age here does not refer to physical age, but to spiritual maturity. Solid food is the metaphor for the understanding of spiritual things for the more spiritually mature. These are the things beyond “the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.” (Hebrews 6:2). Those are the fundamentals of Christianity understood by all converts. As we spend time in prayer, Bible study, and Christian fellowship our understanding should steadily increase.
- The reason I use “Paul” instead of “the writer of Hebrews” is explained in the preface to Chapter 1. If you disagree that Paul is the writer, please continue to read for I have no argument with you. As a scholar once said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, diversity; in all things, love” (attributed to Augustine). ↩
- The Old Testament spelling, “Melchizedek” is used in the commentary throughout the chapter. ↩