Jesus looked at the law and turned traditional understanding of it on its ear. Is it any wonder that his apostles would do the same with the entire Old Testament? The book of Hebrews sets out to declare that Jesus is greater than the prophets, greater than angels, greater than temple worship, greater indeed than the best traditional Judaism had to offer.
Why? Because Jesus is Jehovah of the Old Testament, come in the flesh. I want to look at three of several psalms the inspired author quoted in the first two chapters.
God formerly spoke through prophets, but in the last days spoke through his Son. And the Son was not a mere angel. Psalm 97:7 commands the angels to worship the Son. “But about the Son, he (God) says, “Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever.”
How is it that in this psalm, God the Father address God the Son? Written by the sons of Korah, it celebrates the marriage of one of the ancient kings. As the inspired word of God, however, it has a broader meaning. Verse 2 says, “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever.” What king of Israel deserves to be told that? Not even David himself. And at least God blessed David with an eternal covenant that pointed to Jesus as its culmination.
In other words, this psalm transcends occasional poetry and mere flattery and deserves its place in Scripture only if the king refers to the heavenly king, to God himself. The psalmist simply drives that point home in the sixth verse, “Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever.” He describes same king God blessed forever in verse 2 as God in verse 6.
Verse 7 goes on to declare, “You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” God, who is blessed forever, can be distinguished from God, who blesses God forever.
Quoting Psalm 102:25 in verse 10, the author attributes this to the Son: “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.” He quotes a little more, but we need to examine this one verse a little more in order to see force of his argument.
If you look at Psalm 102, you will not find the words, “O Lord” in verse 25. The author of Hebrews added them. Is that honest? Certainly. The entire psalm is addressed to the divine name, the four consonants (JHVH in traditional transliteration) that devout Jews in New Testament times did not dare pronounce out loud. They substituted “Lord” instead.
In many translations you will find “Lord” written in small capitals whenever it indicates JHVH. The anonymous psalmist uses it in verses 1, 12, 15, 16, and 21. Verse 24 begins, “So I said: ‘Do not take me away, my God, . . .'” Surely it would never occur to a monotheistic audience that the psalmist has started talking to someone else. Hebrew scriptures routinely address JHVH by other names. Indeed, in Genesis 1:1, elohiym created the heavens and the earth. That’s not exactly the same name the psalmist uses, but the words are related.
The author of Hebrews did not quote these verses. He had to introduce “O Lord” to place what he did quote in context and remind his readers (who surely knew the entire psalter) to whom the psalmist wrote.
The name Jehovah that appears in so many of our hymnals is an early attempt to come up with a pronunciation of JHVH that Christians can use. From these two psalms, we can see that Hebrews claims that Jesus, the Son of God, is the same as the Old Testament Jehovah. That is, instead of speaking through humans, Jehovah became human and spoke directly to all other humans.
Having demonstrated that Jesus is God the Son, the author must also make the case that this same Jesus is human. The Greek thought of the time declared matter inferior to spirit. Jews were as affected by Greek philosophy as anyone else of the time. So he turned to another psalm.
David looked at the night sky and wondered, “What is mankind that you are mindful of him.” Hebrew poetry being full of parallelism, he restated the question: “human beings that you care for them?”
He had an immediate answer in verse 5, “You have made them a little lower than elohiym and crowned them with glory and honor.”
I restored the original Hebrew for one word. According to the Hebrew dictionary in Strong’s concordance at Str. 430, it means “gods in the ordinary sense; but specially used in plural [which this form is], and thus especially with the article, of the supreme God.“
English Bibles frequently translate this word as “angels.” NIV, which I quote here, uses “angels.” NASB, on the other hand, says, “a little lower than God.” And unfortunately, in the psalm itself, NIV muddies the issue by bowing to inclusive language, which too often leaves out important meanings. In Hebrews 2:6, it restores the more literal translation of Psalm 8:4.
“What is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man that you care for him.”
Unlike David, the author of Hebrews is not at all concerned with mankind in general. He’s talking about Jesus. What is the Son of Man that you care for him? Remember, Son of Man is the title Jesus most often applied to himself. No level of human leadership gave him much respect.
And in this context, the author says that God put Jesus a little lower than angels. After the first chapter, we recognize that as a demotion, a humbling. But it’s in that lowly status that God put all things in subjection under his feet. God did not put all things in subjection under Jesus the Son of God, but under Jesus the Son of Man.
Jesus, an ordinary man like anyone else for about thirty years, turns out to be Jehovah made flesh. He was no less God during that time and remains no less Man after returning to heaven.
“We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. (Hebrews 2:1)”