As we come down the home stretch of this letter the question of author and recipient should quickly be addressed. The title “To the Hebrews” appears in the earliest times but is found nowhere in the letter. It is possible this is original; it is also possible that it was appended as an appropriate representation of its original audience. The term “Hebrew” is rarely heard in the Bible, and when it is used it is most often being spoken by, or around, foreigners. It is found twice in Paul’s writings, but interestingly it is found alongside, rather than instead of, “Israelite,” as though the terms were not entirely synonymous.
We do receive hints that there is a specific group of believers in mind, as when in chapter 5 the author accuses his readers of having “become dull of hearing.” There is also the historical referent in chapter 13 that “our brother Timothy has been released.” The author expresses familiarity with his audience, but outside of the closing paragraph, and occasional uses of “we,” he only refers to himself once. That the church counted this as part of the Scriptures points to an apostolic author, but none is affirmed with certainty. Paul is possible based on feel and content, but the text does not insist upon it.
Chapter 12 acknowledges “the great cloud of witnesses” that precedes it, and it opens a sequence of exhortations that will conclude the letter. There is too much here to highlight, and calling attention to a few expressions might seem to be elevating them above the rest. These are not presented in an optional tone, but rather as commands to those who should “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and… run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
Throughout these various commands, encouragements, and challenges, I hope you’ll pick up on how the author grounds his readers: with statements about the very nature of Jesus Christ: “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith… the mediator of a new covenant… ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’… the same yesterday, today, and forever… the great Shepherd of the sheep.”
Our verse for this week is Psalm 71:3: Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I continually come; You have given the command to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress.
Hebrews 12 and 13. Now let’s read it!
Be to me a rock of refuge,
to which I may continually come;
you have given the command to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.