The Expository Files


 A Body You Have Prepared For Me

 Hebrews 10:5-7

The high priest washed his body in water in preparation for putting on his holy linen garments. It was the Day of Atonement and he would enter the Most Holy Place, into the very presence of God to offer blood on behalf of the people. Entering the tabernacle, he placed a censer with burning coals and sweet incense behind the veil that separated the two rooms of the tabernacle to create a cloud of incense before he entered the Holy of Holies (Most Holy Place).

In the course of this annual ritual, a ram would be offered as a burnt offering and the high priest would bring the blood of a bull and then a goat into the Most Holy Place and sprinkle that blood on the mercy seat. He would also sprinkle blood on the altar in the tabernacle courtyard. The bull was offered for the sins of the high priest and his family to make atonement; the goat was offered on behalf of the nation as a whole for their atonement (read Leviticus 16 for a more detailed description of this sacrificial ritual).

God commanded the people of Israel to observe this ritual and so, year after year, the blood of bulls and goats was shed and sprinkled for the atonement of sins. Yet, the Hebrews writer states quite clearly that "it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins" (10:4). He argues that if these sacrifices could have indeed purified the worshippers, there would have been no further need to offer them again the next year! Why, then, did God command that these sacrifices be made?

Although the Levitical sacrifices were intended to teach man about the seriousness of sin and the cost of forgiveness, the contrast between the copy and shadow of the heavenly things (Hebrews 8:5) and the heavenly things themselves is striking. As High Priest of the good things to come, Jesus did not come into a tabernacle made by men's hands, repeatedly with the blood of bulls and goats like the high priests of old (Hebrews 9:11-12). Instead, He offered Himself once at the end of the ages for the purpose of putting away sin and entered into heaven itself to appear in the presence of God on our behalf (Hebrews 9:24-26).

The ineffectual nature of animal sacrifices necessitated the incarnation of the Son of God. This is the argument of the Hebrews writer in chapter 10 as he ascribes the words of Psalm 40:6-8 to the Son of God.

David, the author of Psalm 40, began his psalm with a thanksgiving song for the Lord's help (vs. 1-3), but he also noted, in the section of the psalm quoted in Hebrews, the importance of obedience rather than ritual sacrifice. One is reminded of Samuel's comments to king Saul on the occasion of his disobedience to the Lord's command to utterly destroy the Amalekites. Saul claimed that the animals were saved for sacrifice to the Lord. Samuel responded, "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22).

There is something interesting, however, about the quotation in Hebrews 10:5-7. Compare the quotation as it appears in Hebrews 10 with the passage in Psalm 40 in our Old Testament.

"Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, 'Behold, I have come -- In the volume of the book it is written of Me -- To do Your will, O God.' " (Hebrews 10:5-7)

Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require. Then I said, "Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart." (Psalm 40:6-8)

The second phrase in the quotation in Hebrews is different from the reading of the Old Testament in our English Bibles because the Hebrews writer actually quotes from the Septuagint (our English Bibles, by contrast, are translated from Massoretic texts).

Lightfoot, in his commentary Jesus Christ Today, wrote, "The words, a body has thou prepared for me, follow the Septuagint, in keeping with the usual preference of the author. The Hebrew text, however, literally reads, 'ears hast thou digged for me,' which apparently means that God has given man ears to hear that he might obey Him. The Septuagint translators dealt freely with the text by substituting the whole ('body') for the part ('ears'), resulting in the meaning that instead of God equipping man with ears, He made or prepared for man a body" (185).

Of course, the Hebrew text used by the Septuagint translators was actually somewhat older than that used by the translators of our English Old Testament. A possible explanation for the difference in quotations (besides the view that the Septuagint translators "dealt freely with the text") is that the text used by the Septuagint translators was not only older, but actually a more accurate text.

Whether the Septuagint translators were "free" in their translation or simply working from a different Hebrew text, Robert Milligan offers an intriguing perspective on the difference in the two quotations. He wrote in his commentary, "To the careless and superficial reader, there may at first seem to be no connection between digging out, or thoroughly opening the ears of any one, and providing a body for him. But the thoughtful reader will at once see that, in the case of Christ, the two expressions are nearly equivalent, and that the latter differs from the former chiefly in this: that it is rather more specific and expressive. To dig out the ears of a person means simply to make him a willing and obedient servant (Ex. xxi.6). But in order to so qualify Christ as to make him a fit servant for the redemption of mankind, a body was absolutely necessary. Without this, there could have been no adequate sacrifice for sin, and without an adequate sacrifice, there could have no suitable atonement, and without an atonement, the claims of Divine Justice could not have been satisfied, and without this, the will of God could never have been accomplished in the redemption of mankind" (269-270).

Milligan's comment seems to fit well with the context of Hebrews 10 as the author notes that by the will of God "we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (vs. 10).

Although God commanded animals sacrifices ("which are offered according to the law" - vs. 8), the ultimate will of God was that a perfect life be offered to replace the one forfeited by every sinner. It was therefore necessary for the Son of God to take on human flesh, to have a human body, so that He could do the will of the Father, i.e., offer Himself for our redemption.

In conclusion, the Hebrews writer took a passage from David which spoke about the desire to do the will of God and applied it specifically to the case of Jesus. In His case, doing the will of God required a body to be sacrificed!

By By Allen Dvorak
From Expository Files 14.12; December 2007