on Hebrews 5 :7
Who in the days of his flesh - The time of his incarnation, during which he took all the infirmities of human nature upon him, and was afflicted in his body and human soul just as other men are, irregular and sinful passions excepted.
Offered up prayers and supplications - This is one of the most difficult places in this epistle, if not in the whole of the New Testament. The labors of learned men upon it have been prodigious; and even in their sayings it is hard to find the meaning.
I shall take a general view of this and the two following verses, and then examine the particular expressions.
It is probable that the apostle refers to something in the agony of our Lord, which the evangelists have not distinctly marked.
The Redeemer of the world appears here as simply man; but he is the representative of the whole human race. He must make expiation for sin by suffering, and he can suffer only as man. Suffering was as necessary as death; for man, because he has sinned, must suffer, and because he has broken the law, should die. Jesus took upon himself the nature of man, subject to all the trials and distresses of human nature. He is now making atonement; and he begins with sufferings, as sufferings commence with human life; and he terminates with death, as that is the end of human existence in this world. Though he was the Son of God, conceived and born without sin, or any thing that could render him liable to suffering or death, and only suffered and died through infinite condescension; yet, to constitute him a complete Savior, he must submit to whatever the law required; and therefore he is stated to have learned Obedience by the things which he suffered, Hebrews 5:8, that is, subjection to all the requisitions of the law; and being made perfect, that is, having finished the whole by dying, he, by these means, became the author of eternal salvation to all them who obey him, Hebrews 5:9; to them who, according to his own command, repent and believe the Gospel, and, under the influence of his Spirit, walk in holiness of life. "But he appears to be under the most dreadful apprehension of death; for he offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto him that was able to save him from death, Hebrews 5:7." I shall consider this first in the common point of view, and refer to the subsequent notes. This fear of death was in Christ a widely different thing from what it is in men; they fear death because of what lies beyond the grave; they have sinned, and they are afraid to meet their Judge. Jesus could have no fear on these grounds: he was now suffering for man, and he felt as their expiatory victim; and God only can tell, and perhaps neither men nor angels can conceive, how great the suffering and agony must be which, in the sight of infinite Justice, was requisite to make this atonement. Death, temporal and eternal, was the portion of man; and now Christ is to destroy death by agonizing and dying! The tortures and torments necessary to effect this destruction Jesus Christ alone could feel, Jesus Christ alone could sustain, Jesus Christ alone can comprehend. We are referred to them in this most solemn verse; but the apostle himself only drops hints, he does not attempt to explain them: he prayed; he supplicated with strong crying and tears; and he was heard in reference to that which he feared. His prayers, as our Mediator, were answered; and his sufferings and death were complete and effectual as our sacrifice. This is the glorious sum of what the apostle here states; and it is enough. We may hear it with awful respect; and adore him with silence whose grief had nothing common in it to that of other men, and is not to be estimated according to the measures of human miseries. It was: -
A weight of wo, more than whole worlds could bear.
I shall now make some remarks on particular expressions, and endeavor to show that the words may be understood with a shade of difference from the common acceptation.
Prayers and supplications, etc. - There may be an allusion here to the manner in which the Jews speak of prayer, etc. "Rabbi Yehudah said: All human things depend on repentance and the prayers which men make to the holy blessed God; especially if tears be poured out with the prayers. There is no gate which tears will not pass through." Sohar, Exod., fol. 5.
"There are three degrees of prayer, each surpassing the other in sublimity; prayer, crying, and tears: prayer is made in silence; crying, with a loud voice; but tears surpass all." Synops. Sohar, p. 33.
The apostle shows that Christ made every species of prayer, and those especially by which they allowed a man must be successful with his Maker.
The word ἱκετηριας, which we translate supplications, exists in no other part of the New Testament. Ἱκετης signifies a supplicant, from ἱκομαι, I come or approach; it is used in this connection by the purest Greek writers. Nearly the same words are found in Isocrates, De Pace: Ἱκετηριας πολλας και δεησεις ποιουμενοι. Making many supplications and prayers. Ἱκετηρια, says Suidas, καλειται ελαιας κλαδος, στεμματι εστεμμενος· - εστιν, ἡν οἱ δεομενοι κατατιθενται που, η μετα χειρας εχουσις· "Hiketeria is a branch of olive, rolled round with wool - is what suppliants were accustomed to deposite in some place, or to carry in their hands." And ἱκετης , hiketes, he defines to be, ὁ δουλοπρεπως παρακαλων, και δεομενος περι τινος ὁτουουν· "He who, in the most humble and servile manner, entreats and begs any thing from another." In reference to this custom the Latins used the phrase velamenta pratendere, "to hold forth these covered branches," when they made supplication; and Herodian calls them ἱκετηριας θαλλους, "branches of supplication." Livy mentions the custom frequently; see lib. xxv. cap. 25: lib. xxix. c. 16; lib. xxxv. c. 34; lib. xxxvi. c. 20. The place in lib. xxix. c. 16, is much to the point, and shows us the full force of the word, and nature of the custom. "Decem legati Locrensium, obsiti squalore et sordibus, in comitio sedentibus consulibus velamenta supplicium, ramos oleae (ut Graecis mos est), porrigentes, ante tribunal cum flebili vociferatione humi procubuerunt." "Ten delegates from the Locrians, squalid and covered with rags, came into the hall where the consuls were sitting, holding out in their hands olive branches covered with wool, according to the custom of the Greeks; and prostrated themselves on the ground before the tribunal, with weeping and loud lamentation." This is a remarkable case, and may well illustrate our Lord's situation and conduct. The Locrians, pillaged, oppressed, and ruined by the consul, Q. Plemmius, send their delegates to the Roman government to implore protection and redress they, the better to represent their situation, and that of their oppressed fellow citizens, take the hiketeria, or olive branch wrapped round with wool, and present themselves before the consuls in open court, and with wailing and loud outcries make known their situation. The senate heard, arrested Plemmius, loaded him with chains, and he expired in a dungeon. Jesus Christ, the representative of and delegate from the whole human race, oppressed and ruined by Satan and sin, with the hiketeria, or ensign of a most distressed suppliant, presents himself before the throne of God, with strong crying and tears, and prays against death and his ravages, in behalf of those whose representative he was; and he was heard in that he feared - the evils were removed, and the oppressor cast down. Satan was bound, he was spoiled of his dominion, and is reserved in chains of darkness to the judgment of the great day.
Every scholar will see that the words of the Roman historian answer exactly to those of the apostle; and the allusion in both is to the same custom. I do not approve of allegorizing or spiritualizing; but the allusion and similarity of the expressions led me to make this application. Many others would make more of this circumstance, as the allusion in the text is so pointed to this custom. Should it appear to any of my readers that I should, after the example of great names, have gone into this house of Rimmon, and bowed myself there, they will pardon their servant in this thing.
To save him from death - I have already observed that Jesus Christ was the representative of the human race; and have made some observations on the peculiarity of his sufferings, following the common acceptation of the words in the text, which things are true, howsoever the text may be interpreted. But here we may consider the pronoun αυτον, him, as implying the collective body of mankind; the children who were partakers of flesh and blood, Hebrews 2:14; the seed of Abraham, Hebrews 2:16, who through fear of death were all their life subject to bondage. So he made supplication with strong crying and tears to him who was able to save Them from death; for I consider the τουτους, them, of Hebrews 2:15, the same or implying the same thing as αυτον, him, in this verse; and, thus understood, all the difficulty vanishes away. On this interpretation I shall give a paraphrase of the whole verse: Jesus Christ, in the days of his flesh, (for he was incarnated that he might redeem the seed of Abraham, the fallen race of man), and in his expiatory sufferings, when representing the whole human race, offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, to him who was able to save Them from death: the intercession was prevalent, the passion and sacrifice were accepted, the sting of death was extracted, and Satan was dethroned.
If it should be objected that this interpretation occasions a very unnatural change of person in these verses, I may reply that the change made by my construction is not greater than that made between Hebrews 5:6 and Hebrews 5:7; in the first of which the apostle speaks of Melchisedec, who at the conclusion of the verse appears to be antecedent to the relative who in Hebrews 5:7; and yet, from the nature of the subject, we must understand Christ to be meant. And I consider, Hebrews 5:8, Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered, as belonging, not only to Christ considered in his human nature, but also to him in his collective capacity; i.e., belonging to all the sons and daughters of God, who, by means of suffering and various chastisements, learn submission, obedience and righteousness; and this very subject the apostle treats in considerable detail in Hebrews 12:2-11 (note), to which the reader will do well to refer.
on Hebrews 5 :7
Who - That is, the Lord Jesus - for so the connection demands. The object of this verse and the two following is, to show that the Lord Jesus had that qualification for the office of priest to which he had referred in Hebrews 5:2. It was one important qualification for that office that he who sustained it should be able to show compassion, to aid those that were out of the way, and to sympathize with sufferers; in other words, they were themselves encompassed with infirmity, and thus were able to succour those who were subjected to trials. The apostle shows now that the Lord Jesus had those qualifications, as far as it was possible for one to have them who had no sin. In the days of his flesh he suffered intensely; he prayed with fervor; he placed himself in a situation where he learned subjection and obedience by his trials; and in all this he went far beyond what had been evinced by the priests under the ancient dispensation.
In the days of his flesh - When he appeared on earth as a man. Flesh is used to denote human nature, and especially human nature as susceptible of suffering. The Son of God still is united to human nature, but it is human nature glorified, for in his case, as in all others, "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God," 1 Corinthians 15:50. He has now a glorified body Philippians 3:21, such as the redeemed will have in the future world; compare Revelation 1:13-17. The phrase "days of his flesh," means the "time" when he was incarnate, or when he lived on earth in human form. The particular time here referred to, evidently, was the agony in the garden of Gethsemane.
Prayers and supplications - These words are often used to denote the same thing. If there is a difference, the former - δεήσεις deēseis - means petitions which arise "from a sense of need" - from δέομαι deomai - "to want, to need;" the latter refers usually to supplication "for protection," and is applicable to one who under a sense of guilt flees to an altar with the symbols of supplication in his hand. Suppliants in such cases often carried an olive-branch as an emblem of the peace which they sought. A fact is mentioned by Livy respecting the Locrians that may illustrate this passage. "Ten delegates from the Locrians, squalid and covered with rags, came into the hall where the consuls were sitting, extending the badges of suppliants - olive-branches - according to the custom of the Greeks; and prostrated themselves on the ground before the tribunal, with a lamentable cry;" Lib. xxix. 100:16. The particular idea in the word used here - ἱκετηρία hiketēria - is petition for "protection, help," or "shelter" (Passow), and this idea accords well with the design of the passage. The Lord Jesus prayed as one who had "need," and as one who desired "protection, shelter," or "help." The words here, therefore, do not mean the same thing, and are not merely intensive, but they refer to distinct purposes which the Redeemer had in his prayers. He was about to die, and as a man needed the divine help; he was, probably, tempted in that dark hour (see the note, John 12:31), and he fled to God for "protection."
With strong crying - This word does not mean "weeping," as the word "crying" does familiarly with us. It rather means an outcry, the voice of wailing and lamentation. It is the cry for help of one who is deeply distressed, or in danger; and refers here to the "earnest petition" of the Saviour when in the agony of Gethsemane or when on the cross. It is the "intensity of the voice" which is referred to when it is raised by an agony of suffering; compare Luke 22:44, "He prayed more earnestly;" Matthew 27:46, "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice - My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" see also Matthew 26:38-39; Matthew 27:50.
And tears - Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus John 11:35, and over Jerusalem; Luke 19:41. It is not expressly stated by the Evangelists that he "wept" in the garden of Gethsemane, but there is no reason to doubt that he did. In such an intense agony as to cause a bloody sweat, there is every probability that it would be accompanied with tears. We may remark then:
(1) That there is nothing "dishonorable" in tears and that man should not be ashamed on proper occasions to weep. The fact that the Son of God wept is a full demonstration that it is not disgraceful to weep. God has so made us as to express sympathy for others by tears. Religion does not make the heart insensible and hard as stoical philosophy does; it makes it tender and susceptible to impression.
(2) it is not "improper" to weep. The Son of God wept - and if he poured forth tears it cannot be wrong for us. Besides, it is a great law of our nature that in suffering we should find relief by tears. God would not have so made us if it had been wrong.
(3) the fact that the Son of God thus wept should be allowed deeply to effect our hearts.
"He wept that we might weep;
Each sin demands a tear."
He wept that he might redeem us we should weep that our sins were so great as to demand such bitter woes for our salvation. That we had sinned; that our sins caused him such anguish; that he endured for us this bitter conflict, should make us weep. Tear should answer to tear, and sigh respond to sigh, and groan to groan, when we contemplate the sorrows of the Son of God in accomplishing our redemption. That man must have a hard heart who has never had an emotion when he has reflected that the Son of God wept, and bled, and died for him.
Unto him that was able - To God. He alone was able then to save. In such a conflict man could not aid, and the help of angels, ready as they were to assist him, could not sustain him. We may derive aid from man in trial; we may be comforted by sympathy and counsel; but there are sorrows where God only can uphold the sufferer. That God was "able" to uphold him in his severe conflict, the Redeemer could not doubt; nor need "we" doubt it in reference to ourselves when deep sorrows come over our souls.
To save him from death - It would seem from this, that what constituted the agony of the Redeemer was the dread of death, and that he prayed that he might be saved from that. This might be, so far as the language is concerned, either the dread of death on the spot by the intensity of his sufferings and by the power of the tempter, or it might be the dread of the approaching death on the cross. As the Redeemer, however, knew that he was to die on the cross, it can hardly be supposed that he apprehended death in the garden of Gethsemane. What he prayed for was, that, if it were possible, he might be spared from a death so painful as he apprehended; Matthew 26:39. Feeling that God had "power" to save him from that mode of dying, the burden of his petition was, that, if human redemption could be accomplished without such sufferings, it might please his Father to remove that cup from him.
And was heard - In John 11:42, the Saviour says," I know that thou hearest me always." In the garden of Gethsemane, he was heard. His prayer was not disregarded, though it was not" literally" answered. The cup of death was not taken away; but his prayer was not disregarded. What answer was given; what assurance or support was imparted to his soul, we are not informed. The case, however, shows us:
on Hebrews 5 :7
5:7 The sum of the things treated of in the seventh and following chapter s is contained, Heb 5:7 - 10; and in this sum is admirably comprised the process of his passion, with its inmost causes, in the very terms used by the evangelists. Who in the days of his flesh - Those two days, in particular, wherein his sufferings were at the height. Having offered up prayers and supplications - Thrice. With strong crying and tears - In the garden. To him that was able to save him from death - Which yet he endured, in obedience to the will of his Father. And being heard in that which he particularly feared - When the cup was offered him first, there was set before him that horrible image of a painful, shameful, accursed death, which moved him to pray conditionally against it: for, if he had desired it, his heavenly Father would have sent him more than twelve legions of angels to have delivered him. But what he most exceedingly feared was the weight of infinite justice; the being bruised and put to grief by the hand of God himself. Compared with this, everything else was a mere nothing; and yet, so greatly did he ever thirst to be obedient to the righteous will of his Father, and to lay down even his life for the sheep, that he vehemently longed to be baptized with this baptism, Lu 12:50. Indeed, his human nature needed the support of Omnipotence; and for this he sent up strong crying and tears: but, throughout his whole life, he showed that it was not the sufferings he was to undergo, but the dishonour that sin had done to so holy a God, that grieved his spotless soul. The consideration of its being the will of God tempered his fear, and afterwards swallowed it up; and he was heard not so that the cup should pass away, but so that he drank it without any fear.