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10 September 2019

Word of the Son Surpasses Moses

SYNOPSIS Jesus is superior even over Moses - A Son is of higher rank than the chief servant in a household – Hebrews 3:1-6.

Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash
By Samantha Sophia on Unsplash
The epistle to the Hebrews is a “word of exhortation” to a Christian congregation that was facing growing pressure from pagan neighbors; consequently, some members were considering withdrawal from the assembly. Remarks in the letter suggest the congregation included many Jewish followers of Jesus. If so, some likely were contemplating a return to the synagogue to escape persecution - (Hebrews 2:15, 10:32-34, 12:4, 13:22).

The focus of the letter is pastoral, not theological. Its goal is to prevent members from apostatizing. It urges faithfulness in suffering rather than relapse to non-Christian Judaism. Perseverance is the only proper response to persecution and it warns repeatedly of the dire consequences of faithlessness (Hebrews 2:1-4, 3:12-13, 4:1, 4:11, 6:4-8, 10:26-30, 12:25).

The letter employs a series of comparisons to demonstrate the superiority of the Son - His word, ministry, priesthood, and sacrifice - To their counterparts in the Torah. This includes his superiority over angels, Moses, and the Levitical priesthood.

The opening paragraph presents the main proposition - The word of God spoken in His Son is final and complete, surpassing all previous revelations including the one given at Mount Sinai. The previous “words” spoken by God were true but incomplete, promissory, and preparatory. The Son, “having achieved the purification of sins,” inherited a more excellent name; namely, “Son.” As such, he is superior even to the angels.
  • (Hebrews 2:1-4) – “For this cause, it behoveth us with unwonted firmness to be holding fast unto the things that have been heard, lest at any time we drift away. For if the word through messengers spoken became firm, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if so great a salvation as this we have neglected,—which, indeed, having received a beginning of being spoken through the Lord by them who heard, unto us was confirmed, God jointly witnessing also, both with signs and wonders and manifold mighty works, and with distributions of Holy Spirit, according to his own will?” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The demonstration of the superiority of the Son over angels leads to the letter’s first warning - The need to “heed” the Word spoken in the Son - And the dire consequences of failure to do so.  Both themes are reiterated throughout the epistle (Hebrews 4:1-116:4-810:26-3112:25-26).

The first warning begins with “for this cause” (Hebrews 2:1-4). Logically and grammatically, this clause connects what follows to the preceding discussion about how the Son is superior to angels - “The word spoken through angels” - The comparison of the “word” of the Son to that mediated by angels stems from a Jewish tradition that the Law was given to Moses through angels (Deuteronomy 33:2Acts 7:53Galatians 3:19).

The Law given at Sinai was also the "word of God."  Regardless of the angelic intermediaries, the word “became firm and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense.”  Since terrible retribution fell on all who failed to heed this partial word, how shall Christians escape far greater punishment if they abandon the vastly superior Word spoken in the Son? With the arrival of God’s final revelatory Word, returning to the earlier but partial Word is not an option.

Mount Sinai - Photo by Vlad Kiselov on Unsplash
Sinai - By Vlad Kiselov on Unsplash

The next section begins with a proposition:  God has not subjected the coming habitable world to angels but to man.  Though the Son is now highly exalted, the author presents him as one who is fully human and participated in all the frailties of man’s mortality (Hebrews 2:5-18).
Jesus rules at God’s side, but his exaltation was the result of his suffering and humiliation. Abasement was the necessary prelude and demonstrated his solidarity with humanity. In order to “bring many sons to glory,” he was “made complete through sufferings.”
In the next section, the letter presents two more themes worked out in subsequent sections - First, Jesus is our “pioneer” who blazed our trail (Hebrews 2:1012:2) - Second, he is our “faithful high priest” (Hebrews 2:173:1, 4:15-16).  The motif of Jesus as the everlasting high priest becomes dominant in chapters 5-7.
  • (Hebrews 3:1-6) - “Whence, holy brethren, partners in a heavenly calling, attentively consider the Apostle and High—priest of our confession—Jesus, As one faithful to him who made him: as Moses also in [all] his house. For of more glory than Moses hath this one been counted worthy—by as much as more honour than the house hath he that prepared it; For every house is prepared by someone,—but he that hath prepared all things is God. Even Moses, indeed, was faithful in all his house as an attendant, for a witness of the things which were to be spoken; But Christ as a Son over his house,—whose house are we,—if the freedom of speech and boast of the hope [throughout firm] we hold fast.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The Author next compares Jesus to Moses by demonstrating the superiority of the former to the latter. Implicit is the superiority of the "word" of the Son to the Mosaic legislation, the Torah. The comparison is appropriate. Previously, the author compared the "word spoken in a Son" to the earlier revelations given "in the prophets" of Israel. Although Moses was the chief representative of this illustrious group, he was also more honored than all the other prophets, Yahweh having spoken to him face-to-face and not through visions and riddles. The greater rank of Moses serves to emphasize how vastly superior the Son is to all that preceded him (Numbers 12:8).

As our “apostle,” Jesus is the one sent from God to deliver His final word.  As our “high Priest,” Christ represents us to His Father and makes intercession on our behalf. The description of him as “one faithful,” and the reference to Moses as “also in all his house,” alludes to a passage from the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint - Numbers 12:7 - “My servant Moses is not so; he is faithful in all my house.

Moses was the only one in Israel to whom Yahweh spoke face-to-face and not via intermediaries.  Hence, Jesus is set on a par with Moses - God also spoke face-to-face with the Son. In Jewish tradition, the passage from the book of Numbers demonstrates that Moses received greater honor and rank than even angels.  Since the Son is superior to the angels, and since the letter already warned that disobedience to his "word" required a far greater degree of punishment, it is logical to show the superiority of the Son over Moses, the great Lawgiver.

The keywords “faithful,” “priest” and “house” allude to the prophecy in which Yahweh promised “to raise me up a faithful priest; according to that which is in my heart and in my soul will he do. Therefore, will I build for him an assured house.” Jesus is now presented as the promised “faithful priest” set over God’s own “house” (1 Samuel 2:35Hebrews 10:1-14).

But there is a difference.  Jesus was found worthy of far more honor than Moses, just as the one who prepares a house is worthy of more honor than the house.  The Son is closely associated with the builder - God. He has been set over the house of Yahweh. In contrast, Moses was a servant in it. The Greek verb kataskeuazō in Verse 3 means “to prepare, equip,” not to “build” (Strong’s - #G2680). It was used for supplying vessels and furnishings to prepare a household for habitation.

In Verse 5, Moses is described as an “attendant” in God’s house “for a testimony” of the word that “would be spoken.”  The Greek clause uses a future tense participle in the passive voice, one that is difficult to translate into English word-for-word. But the intended sense is clear - As God’s faithful attendant, Moses served as a witness to the word that would come later.  Put another way, this is another picture of the preparatory function of the Old Covenant revelation.  It was penultimate, not ultimate.

House” refers metaphorically, to the living community of God’s people, not to the Tabernacle or Temple. Jesus is “over His house whose house are we” (Verse 6). Believers “are” (present tense) his household as long as they hold fast their “confidence and boast of hope.”  Repeated here is a key warning of the letter:  The necessity to hold firmly to our confession and persevere to the end.
Nowhere in this paragraph does the author denigrate Moses. He takes a view based on Salvation History, the historical progress of God’s revelation, and His redemptive plan. As great as he was, Moses was part of an era now in the past that is eclipsed by Jesus.
This comparison with Moses has prepared the reader for the next section – A presentation on the generation of Israel that received God’s Word through Moses but failed “to hold fast to their confidence and hope” (Hebrews 3:7-4:13).  To abandon the final revelation “spoken” in the Son in exchange for the older and incomplete “word,” even the one mediated through Moses, will result in the payment of a horrific price.

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