We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. Here there is a plain allusion to the eating of offered sacrifices. If, then, there was no such allusion in the preceding verse, what is the connection of thought? It appears to be this: "Some would teach you that meats are of religious importance. Nay, but what are meats to us who have Christ himself for our spiritual food? This is our peculiar privilege, not shared by the very priests of the old dispensation." Then, in Hebrews 13:11 , "That this is so is shown by the very symbolism of the Day of Atonement." Then, in Hebrews 13:12 , "Let us, then, be well content to leave Judaism entirely, and cleave to Christ alone." By "those that serve ( λατρεύοντες ) the tabernacle" are meant the priests of the Law, whose service is, as in former passages, referred to as still going on. It is evidently implied that we have the right which they have not.
"Without the camp."
These words occur repeatedly in this passage; and, used as a motto, they express appropriately the nerve-thought which pervades it. Indeed, the entire Epistle may be described as an urgent and affectionate exhortation to the Hebrews to "go forth unto Jesus without the camp, bearing his reproach." We are required to withdraw from the polity and life of Judaism—
I. AS REGARDS DOCTRINE . ( Hebrews 13:9 ) The reference here seems to be to the Levitical distinctions between clean and unclean "meats," and perhaps also to the traditional customs on the same subject which had been elevated to equal authority with those. The apostle reminds his readers that all such precepts are only "carnal ordinances," which the coming of Jesus Christ has rendered no longer necessary, and the observance of which can now have no influence upon a man's spiritual life. Christ has "made all meats clean" ( Mark 7:19 ). The principle and power of his religion consists in "grace," and not in fanciful distinctions connected with food. "The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking" ( Romans 14:17 ). No consciousness of external observances can ever "profit" a man spiritually. Only the "grace" of God, given by his Spirit, can regenerate and ennoble the human soul. We must therefore forsake the materialistic "teachings" of Judaism for the spiritual doctrines of Christianity.
II. AS REGARDS OUR SIN OFFERING . ( Hebrews 13:10-13 ) Our "Altar" is Christ ( Hebrews 13:10 ), and he is also our Sacrifice "for sin" ( Hebrews 13:12 ). He is at once High Priest, Altar, and Victim. Under the Levitical law, while the priests were allowed to partake of many of the sacrifices, there were certain sin offerings of which they were expressly forbidden to eat ( Leviticus 6:30 ). Those, e.g. which were presented on the great annual Day of Atonement were wholly consumed by fire "without the camp." This ordinance typified the fact that Christ, the true Sin Offering, was to suffer for us "without the gate" of Jerusalem; and that, if we would participate in the atonement which he has made, we must voluntarily renounce the Jewish Church from which he was expelled. The law of the tabernacle forbade those who remained in connection with the camp of Judaism to eat of the flesh of any sin offering the blood of which had been presented within the tabernacle; but every one who worships before the true altar which has been set up on Calvary is encouraged freely to partake of the flesh of Christ, which he has "given for the life of the world." To cleave to the Law, therefore, is to reject the gospel. If we would eat of the real sin offering which has been provided under the new covenant— i.e ., obtain the blessings of pardon and peace, of access and sanctification, which the atonement of Jesus has purchased—we must "go forth unto him without the camp."
III. AS REGARDS OUR THANK OFFERINGS . ( Hebrews 13:15 , Hebrews 13:16 ) These are not to be presented any longer through the medium of the Aaronical priesthood and of the Levitical oblations. Christ's people are to offer them "through him" as Mediator, and depending for their acceptance upon his atonement and intercession. So soon as we partake of the New Testament sin offering, we are ourselves constituted "a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" ( 1 Peter 2:5 ). The great substantive thank offering which the believer presents is himself ( Romans 12:1 ; 2 Corinthians 8:5 ). But the man who has given himself to the Lord will also offer:
1. Words of praise. ( Hebrews 13:15 ) The most direct means by which we can honor God is publicly to "make confession to his Name" in words of faith and songs of adoration. When the spirit of praise takes root within the soil of the heart, it will spread its buds and blossoms over all the soul, and adorn the "lips" with its "fruit."
2. Works of piety. ( Hebrews 13:16 ) These are spiritual sacrifices also. Christianity is eminently a practical religion, and regards every deed of charity done for Jesus' sake as a sweet and holy psalm. The truly grateful heart is always generous, and "willing to communicate" for the relief of brethren who are in need. And "God is well pleased" with every act of beneficence done out of gratitude for his grace. He accepts such as a "sacrifice" offered to himself.
IV. AS REGARDS OUR SPIRITUAL CITIZENSHIP . ( Hebrews 13:14 ) Very soon, now, Jerusalem and its temple were to be razed to their foundations; and the entire Jewish polity, both civil and ecclesiastical, thus to be brought to a perpetual end. But that event would entail but small loss upon the Christian Hebrews, if only they remained steadfast in the faith. For, in embracing the gospel, they had transferred their affections from the earthly Jerusalem to the heavenly. Not only so, but all believers—Jew and Gentile alike—must "go forth unto Jesus without the camp," in the sense of living a life of separation from the prevailing spirit of the world. The believer is to cultivate habits of reserve in reference to earthly pursuits and interests. His "citizenship is in heaven" ( Philippians 3:20 ). He looks beyond even the kingdom of grace to that of glory.
He knows that the whole visible order of things in this world shall pass away, and just as completely as the Jewish polity has already done. And he anticipates for himself a permanent home in the New Jerusalem that shall "come down out of heaven from God."
CONCLUSION . Seeing we possess such transcendent privileges "outside the camp," let us bear patiently the "reproach" of Christ. We must be content to appear "singular" for his sake. We must be willing to be ostracized by the world on account of our love for him. The spirit of devotion to Jesus will be always diametrically opposed to the prevailing spirit of the ungodly. But what an honor to be permitted to suffer with him! And "if we endure, we shall also reign with him."
The Christian altar.
"We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat," etc. Here are three points which require notice.
I. THE CHRISTIAN ALTAR . "We have an altar." One of the positions which the writer of this Epistle endeavors to establish is this, that by the renunciation of Judaism these Hebrew Christians had not lost anything of real value, or that the good in Judaism was perfected in Christianity. He shows that in Jesus Christ, the Head of the Christian dispensation, they had One far greater than Moses, by whom the elder economy was given. For giving up the Levitical priesthood there was far more than compensation in the possession of an interest in the great High Priest. Moreover, the tabernacle in which our great High Priest appears for us is "greater and more perfect" than either the tabernacle in the wilderness or the temple at Jerusalem. And in our text he points out that Christians have also an altar with its provisions and blessings. By this altar we understand the cross upon which our Lord offered himself a Sacrifice for human sin. £
2. This altar has superseded all other altars. The perfection of this sacrifice rendered its repetition unnecessary, and abolished forever the imperfect and typical sacrifices of the earlier dispensation (cf. Hebrews 7:27 ; Hebrews 10:10-18 ).
II. THE PROVISION WHICH THIS ALTAR FURNISHES . The writer speaks of eating of this altar. The reference is to the fact that certain portions of some of the sacrifices under the Mosaic economy were eaten by the priests, and certain by the Levites also (cf. Le Hebrews 6:14-18 , 24-30; 7; Numbers 18:8-11 ; 1 Corinthians 9:13 ). The provision from the Christian altar is Jesus Christ himself, the great Sacrifice. By faith" we become partakers of Christ;" we appropriate him as the Life and the Sustenance of the soul. Our Lord said, "I am the living Bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever," etc. ( John 6:51-58 ).
1. This provision is spiritual. Not of the literal or material flesh and blood of Jesus do we eat and drink, but by faith we become partakers of his mind, his feelings, his principles, his spirit, his life, himself. Hence St. Paul writes, "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me," etc. ( Galatians 2:20 ). Again, "Christ our Life" ( Colossians 3:3 , Colossians 3:4 ).
2. This provision is delightful. To those who are healthy the eating of suitable provision; Is not only necessary and satisfying, but pleasurable. It gratifies the palate. The spiritual appropriation of Christ is joy-inspiring. In Christianity we have "a feast of fat things."
3. This provision is free , and free to all. Some of the Levitical sacrifices belonged to the sacrificing priest only, others only to the priest and Levites. But all may come to Christ by faith, and partake of the inestimable benefits of his great sacrifice. "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters," etc. ( Isaiah 4:1 , Isaiah 4:2 ; Revelation 22:17 ).
III. THE EXCLUSION OF SOME FROM ' PARTICIPATION IN THIS PROVISION . "Whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle." The reference is to the Jewish priests and Levites. They who clung to Judaism rejected Christianity, and were necessarily excluded from its benefits. They were self-excluded. They would not come unto Christ that they might have life. All who reject the Lord Jesus are in a similar condition: e.g. the self-righteous moralist, the modem representative of the ancient Pharisee; the captious and the scoffing skeptic; the worlding who elects to have his portion in this life; and others. The provision is free, free for all; but these exclude themselves from participation therein. How is it possible for any one to enjoy the blessings of Christianity who rejects the Christ?—W.J.