THE ALL-DETERMINING WILL OF GOD CONCERNING THE ACCEPTABLE SACRIFICE (Hebrews 10:5, 6)
The laws of the ceremonial shadows of the Old Testament were really profitless as far as actually removing our sins and cleansing our conscience from sin. The law could never make perfect the entire class of worshippers, throughout the entire Old Testament dispensation. When the great day of atonement was ended and the feast was concluded, the only thing that Israel could look forward to, under these shadows, was another typical day of atonement. Had it been possible to remove sin, to cleanse the conscience from guilt by these sacrifices, these sacrifices would have ceased by their inherent power and virtue. They would have accomplished very really what they obsignated and portrayed. The term in the Greek text is “epausanto,” which is middle voice, aorist tense. The aorist is point action. It is action completed once and for all. The middle voice really says “they would have ceased themselves.” They would have done so by their own inherent virtue and operation. No one else would have stopped it. The divine justice would have been satisfied, the law fulfilled and grace would have been procured. We would then have had the “very image of the things themselves.” But now they were a shadow, a faint promissory outline of things to come.
It all availed nothing to the sinner!
Besides, this all was not well-pleasing to God. Yes, those who came to offer continued to do so. They did so because they had conscience of sin and guilt which was not removed. They are the transgressions of the “first covenant” which must be removed by the blood of the New Covenant. (Heb. 9:15)
In view of all this weakness and imperfection of the law and the shadows Christ stands here with His Word, He stands, he is coming into the world, and he casts his shadow of good things to come. He is the High Priest of good things to come.
Yes, when all of the shadows and all that man can do has proven its utter worthlessness and desperate helplessness—then the Arm of the Lord is revealed to save in grace and mercy. Then we see the truth that “herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son a propitiation for our sins.” (I John 4:10) Such is the force of the “Wherefore” in verse 5. The Greek “dio ” means: on account of which. On account of the weakness of the law the Christ Himself comes into the world to seek and to save that which is lost. This coming into the world is very significant. He who comes is the Son in these last days. God spoke in sundry times and divers manners unto the fathers through the prophets. But, finally, the time came known as the fulness of times. Then Christ was born from a woman and under law. (Hebrews 1:1; Galatians 4:4, 5.) It was then that God sent forth his Son to do His will. For this is the beloved and elected Son in whom is all His good pleasure. Hence, his coming into the world refers centrally to His incarnation. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). And of His fulness we all receive, even grace for grace! (Idem 16) These are not simply some isolated texts, but they are the pillars of truth, representative of all the great lines of teaching of all the Scriptures. Wherefore Jesus could instruct the travelers to Emmaus in the things concerning Himself, beginning with Moses, passing on through the Psalms and culminating in all the prophets. And the sum of it all was: must not the Christ suffer all these things and thus enter into His glory (Luke 24:27)?
The writer to the Hebrews introduces the Messiah as coming into the world. He comes into the “Kosmos.” He does not merely come to this earth. He truly comes into the inhabited world of men and angels, but he is exalted above both (Hebrews 1). For God never said to the angels: Sit on my right hand. But he the Christ who centrally comes into the World, born from Mary. However, he was coming by His Spirit in the prophets before this. Before Abraham was, I am, he says to the unbelieving Jews in John 8. And, therefore, he was coming into the world under the shadows and types. Dimly in the promissory shadows walked the Messiah between the candlesticks in the glory of the Old Testament shadows, and the pillar of cloud. And He has now passed through the heavens.
However, here the text indicates that this coming into the world refers to Christ coming to suffer and die. He is the obedient Servant who has dealt prudently. To make this clear the writer here cites from Psalm 40:1-9. The text is as follows:
“Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared (fitted) me; In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God, . . .”
How the Old Testament saint must have often felt that the Lord was not really pleased with sacrifice and offerings! They must have felt this particularly on the great day of atonement. On this day it was really the yearly purification of all things, priesthood, temple, altar. The difficulty was that even on this best day, when the victim was wholly burnt as a freewill offering to the Lord, and that, too, outside of the camp—everything was cleansed except the conscience. The worshipper knew that this was all but a parable of good things to come.
Such it was at its best!
But there were times too when it was so emphatically clear that God did “not desire” these sacrifices, but when Israel simply brought sacrifice and did not shew mercy, did not serve the Lord in spirit and in truth, then the Lord tells Israel through Isaiah, the prophet, that they are nothing but a spiritual Sodom, when we read,
“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams and of the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs or of great he goats. . . Bring no more oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with it; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. . . ” (Isaiah 1:11-15).
We must not think that God ever desired a goat to expiate the guilt of His people. God forbid! God would only have the perfect sacrifice of obedience to His will by man himself. And that no flesh can do; no flesh is justified by works of law. Hence, we need a Mediator, a Messiah, who wholly recognizes the imperfection of the law as well as the imperfection and sinfulness of His people. Such a high priest became us who is holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners.
In Psalm 40 we see this truth of the cleansing of the conscience by a better sacrifice set forth in bold relief. We do well to take a careful look at this Psalm. A brief analysis of this Psalm indicates that we are here dealing with what Leslie S. M’Caw in the “New Bible Commentary” calls, “The Liturgy Of A Full Heart.” The keynote of this Psalm is of joyful thanksgiving that the Lord has given the Psalmist deliverance from the horrible pit and from the miry clay. Now he is standing on the firm ground, upon the solid rock of completed redemption from sin and guilt. How different is this Psalm from the experience of one who has nothing but a “shadow of good things” without the corresponding “image of the things themselves.” The Psalmist is come into possession of this great salvation. The Lord has heard his prayer; it was well-pleasing to Him; The Lord accepted it. It is now a new song of one who is thankful that the Lord has redeemed him from so great a death by redemption blood. It was not the blood of goats, but the blood of the Son of God, the Messiah who entered the Most Holy place through His own blood, in perfect obedience.
That is the “key of knowledge” (Luke 11:59). The “key” to unlock this Mystery of godliness is here given in Psalm 40:1-9. Sacrifices did not bring about peace of heart and mind, it is true. However, that was never the way of the Mystery of godliness that is great. Such were never the “thoughts” of God for our redemption. God’s thoughts are His eternal plans and purposes in Christ Jesus. Of this the Psalmist speaks in Psalm 40. They are “thy thoughts to usward.” The Psalmist breaks forth into joyful praise, with a full and humble confession which is at once also divine revelation, as follows:
“Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to usward; they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee; if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.” Verse 5.
It is in the midst of these wonderful works that we find Christ standing in the focal point. All these works are summed up in His sacrificial obedience. There is no numbering of the works of God possible except we are able to read the “volume of the book,” the Holy Scriptures. There is no Alpha and there can be no Omega—without the Messiah coming into the world and saying: Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but the body hast thou prepared me! That is the “key” to understanding the works of God” (the Magnalia Dei) of Acts 2:11 here in Psalm 40:5.
When viewed in this light it makes very little or no difference whether David says this in Psalm 40 of the writer of the Hebrews in our Scripture passage under discussion. For David speaks by the Spirit of Christ, which was in him, and which did testify of the sufferings to come upon the Christ and the glory to follow (I Peter 1:10, 11). And we may add that the very angels stooped with earnest desire to look into these mysteries. That is the mystery of the singing of the angels in Bethlehem-Ephratha. Only here the Spirit makes Christ so prominent in Psalm 40:6-8, that David is enshrouded in the light of the glory of the Messiah Himself. It is the obedient answer of the Servant of God, the Son in our human nature, to the will of God.
This will is the all-determining will of God. It is the Divine delight of God in His own glorious perfections to be manifested and maintained in our salvation! Christ is come to perform that determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. Here we see what Isaiah writes concerning the “thoughts” of God. Writes he “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Yea, now the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands for joy!
Behold, I am come to do thy will, O God!