Hebrews – Lesson Two

Slow to Learn

Lesson Aim:       To gather specific information about what was going on with the Hebrew Christians who received this letter in order to determine why it was written.

The Hebrew letter was written to members of the church of the firstborn (Heb. 12:22-24).  So with this information, let us start our study with a zealous determination to be good interpreters.  Our first assignment will be to read the complete letter more than once.  Then with our notebook on the table and pencil in hand, we will need to scan this document for concrete evidence about what was going on with those who received this letter.

The “bottom line” question for which we must find some kind of answer is, “Why did the author write this letter?”  There may be more than one reason but, generally, there will be an “over riding” purpose.  If we can not ascertain the purpose, and if there was a problem, alas, we have a problem.  We will not be able to know God’s divine solution.

We must know the divine answers to the problems of the recipients of the New Testament letters, so we can use the instructions, principles or commands, to solve our own problems.  This is how God has chosen to impart His Word to the church.  It can be called “task theology.”  Each letter has a task to accomplish.  We must have some understanding of the Hebrew letter’s task before we will be able to read it on the spiritual level it has been written.

The author of this document is not identified; therefore, obviously, we don’t need to know that fact in order to understand the content of his letter.  However, a good understanding of the recipients, particularly their situation at the time of the writing, will always be of the utmost importance.

In our preparatory work, assuming we detect a problem, we will make two lists.  The first list will be entitled “specific problems” and the other will be “suggestive problems.”  Specific problems are those specifically stated by the author.  Remember, only the author can furnish the information for both lists.  Our task will be to find this information and that is why we must read the document as a whole.  We treat letters as letters.  There are no half letters.  We will want to read and take notes, if necessary, until we can think about the whole letter as one unit.  We want to think about it without the distraction of reading.  We want to see the end along with the beginning and catch the emotion of the author’s “problem solving” scheme.

We will develop our “specific” list first.  Sometimes this is a difficult task; however, the Hebrew letter will be easy because the author freely makes several specific statements about their problems.  For an example please read Hebrews 5:11-6:12.  The author said, “You are slow to learn.”  This is not a suggestive statement.  This is a clearly stated specific statement.  The author believes they were slow to learn and the author’s understanding of the recipients is our only source of information.  We must learn to see the recipients as the writer saw them.  We will feel free to do this, if we believe the writer was inspired by The Holy Spirit to write this document.

Now we know one of their problems involved their level of comprehension of what they had been, and were being, taught.  They were taught thoroughly at some time in the past.  See Heb. 2:3; 3:14 and 4:2.  They had understood.  They had “received the light.”  Heb. 10:32.  They had been taught the highest glorious spiritual hope offered to mankind but at the time of this writing they had forgotten.  The author said, “And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons.”  Heb. 12:5.  Can you imagine, they had forgotten why God created them, and who Jesus will be bringing to glory (Heb: 2:10)?

The author had “much to say” about the Melchizedek priesthood; however, the Hebrew Christians were not able to think on that level at the time he wrote this letter (5:11).  If they had been maintaining a faithful working relationship with Jesus’ priesthood, they would not have been “dull of hearing” in regard to the Melchizedek priesthood.  Since Jesus’ priesthood is on the same order of the Melchizedek priesthood, we can understand the general principles of the Melchizedek order by a study of Jesus’ priesthood.  The Bible reveals only two priesthood orders, the Levitical and the order to which Jesus Christ was ordained as High Priest (5:6; 7:11).  The recipients had been instructed about Jesus’ priesthood when they were first enlightened – when they received “the meat” of the word (2:4; 10:32).

At the time they received this letter they had to be “milk fed.” 5:12.  According to chapter six, verse one, they were “hung up” on the elementary doctrines.  Indeed, it appears they needed someone to repeatedly teach them elementary subjects (5:12; 6:1, 2).  This church (there may have been several congregations) had “been around awhile;” however, looking at them on a scale of 0 – 10, it appears they were near the bottom, spiritually.  (In our following studies we will attempt to understand where these Christians were on this scale).  The author thought they should have been on a much higher level than they were, for he said, “by this time you ought to be teachers.”

Remember what we are doing!  We are developing our “specific problem” list in order to help us understand what was going on where this letter was received.  We want to know what their problem(s) was and then we will want to understand its level of seriousness.  Therefore, we want to know, “What spiritual subjects did the author think they should have been able to comprehend at this point in their Christian life?”  They needed to “go on to maturity?”  6:1.  So we need to know, “What is maturity?”  The subjects were not repentance and baptism, etc., as we can see from 6:1, 2.  The following list is the author’s “solid food” items:

  1. Assuming the writer was addressing his remarks to those members who had been members for some time and not to the newer members, they should have been in the room marked “Teachers Class” and not in the “New Converts Class” at the Bible study hour of the church (5:12).
  2. One of their subjects would have been “the righteousness of God.”  5:13.
  3. They, like all mature people, had the knowledge of good and evil.  (See Gen. 3:22 and  I Cor. 15:45-49.)  This knowledge is a part of our inner-man, our self, and it, as a part of our minds, needs constant training.  Christians who feed on “solid food” continually are, simultaneously, learning to discern what is good and what is evil in their daily life experiences.  From our study in this lesson, we understand “solid food” to be about life as a son of God and God’s righteousness, but there is more.
  4. The reign of Jesus Christ as king.  See 1:5-13; 12:22-29.
  5. The priesthood of Jesus Christ.  4:14-10:18.

The following is a list of spiritual growth accomplishments that had, or could have, happened to those Christians who had been enlightened by a spiritual diet of “solid food.”  See Heb. 6:4, 5.

  • They had tasted the heavenly gift.
  • They enjoyed fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
  • They had tasted the goodness of the word of God.
  • They had been empowered by their view of the coming age.

All of the church members may not have reached this level of spiritual growth but for those who had, this letter was written to keep them from falling away (Heb. 13:22). As the author said, “if they fall away, (it would be impossible for them) to be brought back to repentance.”   See Heb. 6:4-6.

We can see the urgency in the task of this letter.  Some Hebrew Christians may have been in danger of “crucifying the Son of God all over again.” 6:6.  Even though they might want to stop, they might not have been able to repent.  Some may have become “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”  Heb. 3:13.  This letter was written to encourage them to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”  Heb. 12:1.  This they must do while they still could repent.

The author made a connection between “spiritual fruit production” and their problem which hindered their spiritual growth.  His analogy needs no explanation for farmers and gardeners.  Please read Heb. 6:7, 8.  In verse nine we learn the author was “confident of better things in your case – things that accompany salvation.”  Why did the author speak so harshly to them and at the same time still have hope for them?  One reason: Because they were loving their church family.   “God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.”  6:10. As important as a loving church fellowship is to our spiritual growth and salvation, we will see from our study of this great epistle that this alone is not enough for Christians to develop as legitimate sons of God (12:8).

After we do our exegesis we will do our hermeneutical work.  As we seek to bridge the hermeneutical gap in this study from the “then and there” (exegesis) to the “here and now,” (hermeneutics) we will be looking for principles of life in God’s kingdom.  Principles of Christian ethics (how we behave), theology (what we can know about God, His graces and programs for mankind) and the ordained practices (baptism, manner of worship, evangelism) are all that is transported through this gap. The historical story and their problems become “baggage.”  We leave it behind.  Our question about the Hebrew epistle is; what does this information mean to me today?  This is the hermeneutical question.

Many principles are clearly delineated in this letter.  For instance, “slow to learn” is not an option for Christians.  In our study of God’s word, we always seek to raise the spiritual level of our learning.  This can be done by using good Biblical interpretation principles for our study; consequently, we can hear (listen, think, and learn cognitively) God’s word as it was written.  Then, we will want to combine what we learn in our minds with our faith in our hearts (affective learning, 4:2).  Of course, our faith, or the lack of it, will appear in our behavior – our habits.  See Matt. 5:13-16; 7:24).

In our next lesson we will continue to add more of the recipients’ problems to our “specific list.”  Please study Hebrews 10:32-39 and 12:4-13.

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