ms illumination showing two haloed figures and text

Notes on Hebrews 2 17-18

One of the Uniform Series texts for Sunday, May 27 is Hebrews 2:17-18. These are my notes on that short text:

Background & Context

It’s a little difficult taking just two verses out of the carefully constructed argument in Hebrews, which isn’t exactly a letter, isn’t exactly a sermon, is more like a theological analysis, something like a lecture or a lesson plan.

The immediate context goes back at least to 2:10, where the appropriateness of Christ’s sufferings starts to be the focus of attention. But we are still dealing with the idea that Jesus (see v11) is not an ordinary angel, is vastly superior to angels, and yet, as savior of humans, came to help humans rather than angels (v16). It’s the transition to a further point about the necessity of faithfulness, including through suffering(s).

Vv14-15 set up our little text more directly:

Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.

Which raises the question: how exactly are people held in slavery by the fear of death? Because, not disputing that people fear death, to what are people enslaved, or how are people enslaved, as a result of that fear? This seems worth thinking about.

Why pair this text from Hebrews with Psalm 34, a hymn of praise of God and (especially in the verses we don’t read) an encouragement of wisdom? Wisdom of the incarnation? Trinity Sunday? (It isn’t really all that Trinitarian … it’s Hebrews, after all.) Something else to continue to think about.

Closer Reading

Presumably, the “merciful and faithful high priest” is a human office, at least when the people under consideration and who need a high priest are humans. The “sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people” is less than specific. In this context, it wouldn’t seem to have to be a self-sacrifice. But there are sufferings in this flesh and blood condition – these were introduced back in v10 – and so those sufferings, which constitute a kind of test, then enable Jesus to help others who are being tested, presumably also by suffering. The suffering might be related to the death brought up in vv14-15.

I sought YHWH and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4

ms illumination showing two haloed figures and text

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