The First Chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews


By J. Morison


The inspired writer having affirmed, in the fourth verse, that Jesus has inherited a more excellent name titan the angels, proceeds, as we have seen, in the first part of the fifth, to establish his affirmation. This he does by a singularly apposite quotation from the second Psalm, one of the most remarkable and artistic of the Messianic oracles of the Old Testament. The quotation is decisive. In the adduction of it, the writer's argument stands out un. challengeable and complete. The Messiah is God's Son in the strictest highest sense,—a sense entirely inappropriate to any of the angels.

With a quotation so decisively apposite, the logic of the case in handˇ was settled. The writer, consequently, might have forthwith proceeded to the other branch of his subject,—the transcendent dignity of our Saviour's position. But instead of thus basting along, he pauses for a little, not to confirm his argument, which needed no confirmation, but to attach to it, enrichingly, and by way of embellishment, a rider of peculiar significance. He says: And again, I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.

The connective phrase and again is interpreted by de Wette as equivalent to the simple copulative and,· so that the two Old Testament quotations, according to him, are just linked together as the twofold objects of the verb. Unto which of the angels did he ever say,

My Son art thou,
I this day have begotten thee,
I will be to him a Father,
And he shall be to me a Son?

Such an entire submergence, however, of the natural import of the adverb again is so violent as to be altogether improbable.

When the connective phrase is taken in its real integrity of meaning, it may be interpreted either more loosely or more strictly. In the latter case, we must suppose the interrogation of the preceding clause to be repeated, And again (to which of the angels did he ever say?). In the former, we may regard the second quotation as inartificially appended, And again (it is written), or, And again (he says).

Almost all the great editors of the text, from Robert Stephens down, have taken the former view, and hence repeat the interrogation—point at the close of the verse. But Lachmann omits it, as Erasmus had done in all his editions. It is absent also in Luther's and Tyndale's versions, —no doubt because absent in Erasmus. And, though present in Beza's text and the Geneva Version, it is wanting in the Authorized English Translation, as it originally appeared in 1611. It seems better, on the whole, to repeat the interrogation—point, and to assume that the interrogation reproduces itself in the second quotation.

The passage quoted is found in the Septuagint Version of 2 Sam. vii. I 4 and 1 Chron. xvii. I 3, and is a literal translation of the original Hebrew—I will be to him for Father (or, for a Father), a1zd he shall be to me for Son (or, for a Son). God spoke thus through the prophet Nathan to David, in reference to the "seed which should proceed out of his bowels," and who was to "build an house for the: Lord's name."

The promise has been supposed by some,—as for example Lactantius among the ancients (De Falsa Religione, iv. 13), and Grünenberg, Rus, Pierce, E. Henderson, Addison Alexander, among the moderns,—to have direct and exclusive reference to "great David's greater Son," our Lord Jesus Christ.

Cardinal Cajetan, on the other hand, bounded off to an opposite extreme (Prolog. in Epist. ad Heb.). He could not see that there was room in the promise for any reference at all to the Messiah. Solomon alone, he conceived, must be meant. And hence he looked upon the adduction of the passage as a mistake, and thus as evidence of the non-canonicity of the Epistle. De Wette—.though working on more generic principles of criticism—came to substantially the same conclusion with the Cardinal. The writer's application of the promise, according to him, is not only "mystical," it is "at variance with the connection" (of the passage in the Old Testament text).

Expositors in general have looked through other eyes than either those of Cardinal Cajetan, baffled: as he was by his own honest doubt, or those of ·Grünenberg and Rus, in their well—intentioned efforts to maintain intact the authority of Scripture. They have seemed to see something typical in Solomon's peculiar relation to God. There was, as it were, a Solomon within Solomon, and 'greater than he;' or a Solomon beyond Solomon, a nobler Prince of Peace, and a diviner Son of God. It is a right idea, but needing development in relation to the oracle addressed to David.

We must certainly hold to the principle that the literal historical Solomon was referred to. Delitzsch, preceded by Ebrard and followed by Kluge, supposes that the "seed" spoken of was not, in the first instance at least, and exclusively, a definite individual. The promise, he conceives, was partially fulfilled in all of David's race who occupied in succession David's throne. But this is straining. For doubtless there was many a moral and political cipher in the Davidic line, of whom it could not, with propriety, have been said. He shall build an house for my name." Nor could it, with any real typical significance, have been affirmed of the last of the dynasty, " I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever." The "stablished throne" —in the ' shadow ' of the type, as distinguished from the 'substance' of the antitype —was vanishing away.

We are shut up to the conclusion that Solomon, as an individual, was divinely referred to. And so certainly he himself thought, as we see from I Kings v. 5; viii. 17-20; 2 Chron. vi. 8-10. So too did David his father think, ere he finished his earthly career. (See 1 Chron. xxii. 6-10; xxviii. 2-7.) And this, his anticipative thought, was in due course verified by actual historical fact.

Nevertheless, in the original oracle, as delivered by N a than, the precise individual, the son or descendant of David, in whom the promise was to be fulfilled, is not particularized. The Divine reference lay in the Divine mind, unrevealed. Hence it would be only gradually that David would come to the conclusion that Solomon was the favoured "seed." And even after he came to this conclusion, he might, as he " inquired and searched diligently what or what manner of time the Spirit did signify," fail to adjust, with absolute accuracy, all the elements that entered within the circumference of the case. The prophet had said, " Furthermore I tell thee, the Lord will build thee an house " (1 Chron. xvii. 10). "Thy house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee; thy throne shall be established for ever" (2 Sam. vii. 16). This was a promise that looked forward "for a great while to come" (1 Chron. xvii. 1 7), and, being linked on expressly to ·the destinies of that peculiar people, in whom, as the seed of Abraham, "all the families of the earth were to be blessed," it would give rise, on the part of the deeply emotional king, to ardent Messianic expectations. Many and wistful would be the questionings of his spirit. As he mused on the high prerogative indicated in the words,

I will be to him for Father,
And he shall be to me for Son,

—a prerogative far transcending, in his estimation, the highest dignity of all the other monarchs on the earth (Psa. lxxxix. 26, 27),—he would feel his spirit instinctively taking flight toward the conception of an ideal King. Was that ideal King to be, in very deed and truth, his own " seed,". and the occupant of his own throne? The thought was transporting. But who might he be? Would the builder of t:1e house of the Lord be he? Might Solomon be he? Or, would he be a greater than Solomon? As his thoughts chased one another, in the dim twilight of that early age, they would sometimes get involved and enravelled; but, as the fire of inextinguishable faith blazed within his heart, they would often grow radiant with intensity of lustre.

But, whatever might be David's desires on the one hand, or his uncertainties on the other, the Lord's purpose was determinate. And therefore it was that there existed 'a covenant of peculiarity' binding together the Hebrew people. Their separation from other peoples was not to shut out those others from the enjoyment of the Divine mercy, but to shut in themselves from influences that would have been fatal to their purity. The separation involved a prophecy—it was a prophecy—of a more peculiar people still, the true peculium of the Lord, the truly 'holy nation.' All the peculiar Hebrew institutions were adumbrations of better things to come. Solomon himself with all his glory was ' shadow' as well a£1 'substance: ' there was to be another, an ideal Solomon. David likewise: there was to be another, an ideal David. The lustre of the respective reigns of both the monarchs was like the lustre of the early spring—prophetic of the commg summer. The House which Solomon built was but a 'figure of the true.' His peculiar filial relation to God, and his enjoyment of the blessing involved in the correlative paternity, were but partial, and for that very reason prophetic. The entire Davidic line of royalty was only a series of instalments. So that, as Hengstenberg says, the Davidic dynasty, without the Messiah, would have been "a body without its head" (ein Rumpf ohne einen Kopf).

It is thus that Christ was 'in' the promise given to David. The coming event was casting its shadow before. The divine sonship of Solomon· was a prefiguration of the diviner sonship of Christ. The diviner sonship of Christ was the transfiguration of the divine sonship of Solomon.

The inspired writer, therefore, has made no mistake. His application of the words of the promise is neither contrary to true historical interpretation, nor "at variance with the context." The only error he has committed, if of error he has been guilty at all, is that his plumb-line is meant for deep seas, whereas the plumb-lines of his critics are fitted only for shallow waters. But no prophecy on the one hand, and no history on the other, can be fathomed with such lines. All history is profound, and profoundly prophetic. The history of the Hebrews is either an exception to the rule, and like a circle without a centre; or Christ, the Saviour for: the world, is that Centre.

J. Morison.