Hebrews 9:17

Sunday, 6 January 2019

For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. Hebrews 9:17

Again, as in the previous verse, the word “testament” is not correct. This has not been, is not, and will not be the subject of the discussion. It is a “covenant” which is being referred to. A proper translation of these words would be, “for a covenant over dead victims is stedfast, since it is no force at all when the covenant-victim liveth” (Young’s Literal Translation). It is with this proper translation that the words will be evaluated.

As it says, “for a covenant over dead victims is steadfast.” The words in Greek literally read, “for a covenant over death.” In other words, a covenant is made over the death which occurred. From there, that covenant was in force, and it remained that way. The covenant was cut, the animals were slaughtered, and the agreement was made in the sprinkling of the blood, proving the death which sealed the covenant. If a new covenant were to be introduced, it would supersede the old one. This is why the author firmly stated in verse 7:18 that the “former regulation is set aside,” and in verse 8:13 that “he has made the first one obsolete.”

However, the first could neither be set aside, nor made obsolete, while the covenant-victim of the coming covenant was alive. As Young’s says, “since it is no force at all when the covenant-victim liveth.” This was true with the Old Covenant. It had no power at all until the covenant-victims were slaughtered. And it is true with the New Covenant as well. In order for the New Covenant to come into effect, the covenant-victim, in this case Christ Jesus, had to die. The author will spend the next several verses speaking about this process, and he will finish the chapter with the thought of Christ’s death and what it means for those who have received Him.

In this regard, the idea of a will is like that of a covenant. Can you imagine standing in a court with a superseded will, knowing it to be so, and arguing why it should be accepted and the newer one rejected? If all was in order with the newer will, the court could find no reason for your argument and your case would be dismissed. How much more, then, should we accept that God, as a fully competent Executor of the New Covenant, has ordained that we live by that same New Covenant which He provided at the cost of His own beloved Son!

Clinging to the Law of Moses is actually an indication that one has failed to trust the promises and benefits of the New Covenant established over the death of the Lord. Hebrews, above all other books of the New Testament, makes the point absolutely clear that we are living under new guidelines and with better precepts. To reinstitute dietary laws, mandatory tithing, or any other precept from the law is to live by “another gospel” than that which has been proclaimed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

Life application: We need to be exceedingly careful that if we follow precepts which were mandated under the Mosaic Covenant, it is because of our freedom in Christ and not because of a belief that we are somehow justified by our actions. Further, we are never (times infinity, plus one) to teach another person that they must adhere to a precept found in the obsolete and replaced Law of Moses. We are to teach the grace of Jesus Christ, and the principles laid out in the New Testament which are based on that.

Heavenly Father – You alone know our failings and the areas where our doctrine is weak and ineffective. Transform our thinking to be in line with the precepts and guidelines that You have carefully and clearly laid out for us in the pages of Your word, the Holy Bible. And may those precepts and guidelines be in accord with the New Covenant of grace, found in Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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