In this verse the writer touches somewhat on a basic chord and keynote of this Epistle. There is reason that he should repeat in somewhat different form this keynote of Hebrews 1:1, 2, “God . . . hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” This Son is so exaltedly great above the angels, being worshipped by all the host of heaven, (Heb. 1:6) that “. . . we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we let them slip.” (Heb. 2:1). We must not neglect such great salvation, which “at first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.” (Heb. 2:3) Did not the writer quote with great taste and effect the passage from Psalm 95:7, “Today, if ye hear his voice, harden not your heart”?
Entirely in keeping with this basic concern which we referred to above, and which we could multiply by many other quotations, the writer now once more, as with a parting glance, insists that the Hebrews do not forget but keep in sacred memory their former preacher-guides, who had faithfully and carefully spoken to them the word of God. Some had laid the foundation as wise builders (Eph. 2:20; I Cor. 3:9, 10), and others had built upon this, not with straw and hay, but with the gold and silver that can stand the day of trial. And we may remind ourselves that we, too; beware how we build upon this foundation, and be good workmen, who rightly divide the word. (II Tim. 3:15)
THE LEADER-PREACHERS, WHO SPOKE THE WORD OF GOD (Hebrews 13:7a)
The term in the Greek for “have the rule over you” is really not emphasizing so much the “rule” as that of standing before the. flock of God and giving leadership, guiding the willing feet in straight paths of the truth. The term is toon eegoumenoon. It refers to them as a class of men in distinction from others in the church. In this instance it refers to those men who have lived and now have died—at least some of them had. This is evident from the fact that, in verse 24 of this chapter, the writer speaks of the “rulers” in verse 17 to whom they must be subject and not make the work of these difficult. A little word-study shows that the termeegomenon is in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew: a ruler. It is the translation of the Hebrewmarshal. Joseph was made a ruler in Egypt and thus became a guide also to the church of the patriarchs, and he spoke with authority the word and will of God.
Perhaps we may infer from Hebrews 2:1-4 that the line here of those “who spoke the word of God,” and who constitute these “rulers” which must be remembered is: The Lord himself—confirmed by those who heard Him, that is, the Apostles, the prophets, the shepherds and teachers. This includes Paul, an apostle, as one born out of due time. (I Cor. 15:8-11). Their word was very sure and steadfast. Reasoning from the lesser to the greater, the writer to the Hebrews has pointed out inHebrews 2:2, 3 that the word spoken by angels at Sinai to Moses was very steadfast and sure, and every disobedience received a just recompense of reward. None escaped who did not heed the word of God. And the New Testament church must give heed to these teacher-guides who received the Word of God, who does not simply speak on earth, but who speaks from heaven. (Heb. 12:25) For here is a speech of Him who will not only shake the earth but also the heavens. (Heb. 12:26)
This “who spoke the Word of God” emphasizes that these men were sent of God to preach. They did not simply come in their own self-appointed way of preaching; they did not take to themselves this great responsibility and honor. They are in line with Aaron and Christ, who were appointed and anointed. (Heb. 5:3-6) They are prophets of God, His mouthpieces. And as such they should be honored and revered with great deference and tenderness of feeling, which is rooted in an acknowledgement that they spoke the Word of God. These were men of God. Such we say today also of Calvin, Augustine and other great preachers.
The writer says explicitly that such “who spoke the Word of God” must be “remembered” by the Hebrews. The verb is in the present imperative. This activity is more than to have an intellectual “memory” of them. It means that one remembers more their “words” than their persons. When we remember “Augustine” we think of his “City Of God,” “Confessions Of Augustine.” And he who remembers Calvin studies his “Institutes Of The Christian Religion.” And, again, he who remembers our own pastor who spoke the Word of God to us, will reread and relate what such men as Hoeksema, Ophoff, Vos, and others have written. That is what our younger men, too, will not forget, who now preach the Word of God. We will study such men ai Kuyper and Bavinck and also we will remember what the preacher said in the large city congregation, as well as the preaching of the faithful minister in a far-off, lonely church of faithful Christians, who longingly wait for the next Sabbath day to come. This should surely be an element in our thankfulness for “God’s Covenant Faithfulness” during these Fifty Years of our existence.
IMITATING THE FAITH OF THE PREACHERGUIDES (Hebrews 13:7b)
The Hebrews are enjoined that they “imitate the faith” of these preacher-guides, who spoke the word of God. These men were such that they had not merely an office, a work, but they also had “life”. They lived as did Paul when he speaks in II Cor. 4:8-13. They stood in the midst of the conflict, the battle of the ages against sin, unbelief and Satan with all his hellish host of demons. They were battle scarred warriors, who grew old and gray in the ministry. Their life was really a continual dying. They bore in their body the “dying of the Lord Jesus.” Such was their faith. They were hated of all men for Christ’s sake. (Matt. 10:22) But they endured to the end! They stood in the forefront of the battle. They were leader-preachers. They did not hide in the shadows, but boldly held forth the Word of life in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. They entered the kingdom of heaven through great tribulation. But they believed the word of their Sender, Christ, “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Such was “the faith” of these men who must be remembered for their preaching. They sealed their preaching with a godly walk which had a noteworthy “end.” They died and left this world victoriously. Theirs was not the bitter and disillusioned end of all unbelievers, whose lot is in this life alone. This world, too, has its “preacher-leaders.” They have their Voltaire and their Rousseau, who both turned the world into Revolution by their teachings and writings. And their followers are legion. They wrote on Religion and Philosophy, Literature and Art and Music, People and State, Morals and Manners, the Worship of Beauty; but God was not in all their thoughts. The Christ, the Son of God, they hated and denied; and their end was destruction. Their feet were set on slippery places. They did not go into the “sanctuary” to see their own end, but kept the truth down in unrighteousness. Yes, intellectual giants these, who did not know Christ, and the word spoken by the preachers of the Word of God. They, too, have an ekbasis, an outgoing, which by contrast we may “consider.” When one reads “The Age Of Voltaire” by Will and Ariel Durant, one need consider these men no more to acquire strength in the battle of the ages. But these, who spoke the Word of God, we must consider positively. The term in the Greek is anatheoorountes. We must consider very intensely what the faithful ministers have spoken and what is recorded in the Holy Scriptures. We must do so again and again. (ana) Paul took good notice in Athens of the idolatrous religion of the Athenians. It made him deeply moved and disturbed in his soul. Thus we must study and consider the Word of those who have spoken to us the Word of God.
Those who spoke the Word of God had a glorious end of victorious faith. Does not Paul express this beautifully in II Tim. 4:6-7, where we read, “For I am ready to be offered, and the time of my departure (unloose) is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” What was the end of Paul which we must now notice carefully? This: “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but to all them also that love his appearing.” Yes, take careful notice also of the victory of the deacon Stephen, who said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and who prayed for Saul of Tarsus and others, saying, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge,” and then “he fell asleep” in the Lord. (Acts 7:59, 60.) Who cannot but wonder at the victorious death of James, Peter and other of the Apostles. They loved not their lives unto death.
And there have been those who have given heed to those who preached the word, and were leaders in the fray. Who can but think of that period in the Church which is called “The Heroic Age” under the fires of Nero and the Roman Caesars. We read of them in the annals of the Church’s history: Polycarp, Justin Martyr and those who were led to the lions in the Roman and Greek amphitheaters to the cry of “Christians To Lions.” Look at the end of a man as Polycarp, who confessed dying, “Eighty and six years have I served him, and He has never done me wrong; how can I blaspheme Him, my King, who has saved me? I am a Christian.” Upon this the crowd yelled, “Let him be burned.”
Thousands have died in the Inquisition at the time of the Reformation by the hand of the fire and the sword. And nothing could separate these who listened to God’s Word and remembered those “who spoke the Word of God.” They gave heed to Him who spoke from heaven and were saved.
This is no trite saying from the writer to the Hebrews. Besides, it is a fit introduction to the truth that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. That makes this word so relevant to us today in the Twentieth Century. The message is ever constant and the same. The Gospel-message changes not. Hence, we, too, must take this word of admonition to heart—especially now in this year in which we speak of the Lord’s faithfulness, and use as our watch-word “God’s Covenant Faithfulness.” May it be the outcry of faith that has a good end.