For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. (7:18–19)
Here is the climax of the text. Aaron is replaced by Christ. God has set aside the old and imperfect and has replaced it with the new and perfect. Setting aside (athetēsis) pertains to doing away with something that has been established. It is used, for example, of annulling a treaty, a promise, a law, a regulation, or of removing a man’s name from a document. The whole paraphernalia of the sacrificial system, the whole ceremonial system, was canceled, annulled, done away with entirely. God assured its end in a.d. 70, when He allowed the Temple to be destroyed.
The old system could reveal sin. It could even cover sin, in a certain way and to a certain temporary degree. But it could never remove sin, and so itself had to be removed. It brought nothing to conclusion. It gave no security. It gave no peace. A man never had a clear conscience. But the priesthood of Jesus Christ made all of what Israel looked forward to a reality. It brought access to God.
Peter tells us, “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look” (1 Pet. 1:10–12). In other words, those Old Testament saints only saw salvation from a distance. They were neither fully certain nor secure until Christ came. They trusted in hope, looking ahead for a conscience freed from sin. But now we can go into God’s presence and we can sit down before Him and, with the apostle Paul, say, “Abba, Father.” We have access to God.
Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. (10:19–22)
A young woman had run up a lot of bills and charged far beyond what she was able to pay. She was in debt over her head and saw no way to get out. She was in trouble and the situation looked hopeless. Then a young man came along and fell deeply in love with her. After some months he proposed. She also loved him very much, but felt that she should tell him about her debts before she agreed to marry him. When told, he said, “Don’t worry. I’ll pay all your debts. Just leave them to me.” Before the wedding he gave her an engagement ring and reassured her many times that he would take care of her debts. She trusted him implicitly and knew he was a person of his word. She had every reason to be confident and hopeful. But she was not yet actually free of her debts and, consequently, could not be at peace about them. Finally they were married, and he paid her debts. Not only that, but he told her that he was wealthy beyond her wildest dreams and gave her a joint checking account with himself. She would never again need to be concerned about debts. From that time on she was secure in the riches of the one she loved and who loved her.
That is how much better off a person is under the New Covenant than under the Old. In Christ we are freed from all sin’s debts, and we live forever in the riches of the One we love and who loves us.
18. For there is verily a disannulling, or abrogation, &c. As the Apostle’s discourse depends on this hinge, that the Law together with the priesthood had come to an end, he explains the reason why it ought to have been abolished, even because it was weak and unprofitable. And he speaks thus in reference to the ceremonies, which had nothing substantial in them, nor in themselves anything available to salvation; for the promise of favour annexed to them, and what Moses everywhere testifies that God would be pacified by sacrifices and that sins would be expiated, did not properly belong to sacrifices, but were only adventitious to them. For as all types had a reference to Christ, so from him they derived all their virtue and effect; nay, of themselves they availed nothing or effected nothing; but their whole efficacy depended on Christ alone.
But as the Jews foolishly set up these in opposition to Christ, the Apostle, referring to this notion, shews the difference between these things and Christ. For as soon as they are separated from Christ, there is nothing left in them, but the weakness of which he speaks; in a word, there is no benefit to be found in the ancient ceremonies, except as they refer to Christ; for in this way they so made the Jews acquainted with God’s grace, that they in a manner kept them in expectation of it. Let us then remember that the Law is useless, when separated from Christ. And he also confirms the same truth by calling it the commandment going before; for it is a well-known and common saying, that former laws are abrogated by the latter. The Law had been promulgated long before David; but he was in possession of his kingdom when he proclaimed this prophecy respecting the appointment of a new priest; this new Law then annulled the former.
19. For the Law made nothing perfect, &c. As he had spoken rather harshly of the Law, he now mitigates or, as it were, corrects that asperity; for he concedes to it some utility, as it had pointed out the way which leads at length to salvation. It was, however, of such a kind as to be far short of perfection. The Apostle then reasons thus: The Law was only a beginning; then something more perfect was necessarily to follow; for it is not fit that God’s children should always continue in childish elements. By the word bringing in, or introduction, he means a certain preparation made by the Law, as children are taught in those elements which smooth the way to what is higher. But as the preposition ἐπὶ denotes a consequence, when one thing follows another; it ought, as I think, to be thus rendered, “but added was an introduction into a better hope.” For he mentions two introductions, according to my view; the first by Melchisedec as a type; and the second by the Law, which was in time later. Moreover, by Law he designates the Levitical priesthood, which was superadded to the priesthood of Melchisedec.
By a better hope is to be understood the condition of the faithful under the reign of Christ; but he had in view the fathers, who could not be satisfied with the state in which they were then, but aspired to higher things. Hence that saying, “Many kings and prophets desired to see the things which ye see.” (Luke 10:24.) They were therefore led by the hand of the Law as a schoolmaster, that they might advance farther.
By the which we draw nigh, &c. There is to be understood here an implied contrast between us and the fathers; for in honour and privilege we excel them, as God has communicated to us a full knowledge of himself, but he appeared to them as it were afar off and obscurely. And there is an allusion here made to the tabernacle or the temple; for the people stood afar off in the court, nor was there a nearer access to the sanctuary opened to any one except to the priests; and into the interior sanctuary the highest priest only entered; but now, the tabernacle being removed, God admits us into a familiar approach to himself, which the fathers were not permitted to have. Then he who still holds to the shadows of the Law, or seeks to restore them, not only obscures the glory of Christ, but also deprives us of an immense benefit; for he puts God at a great distance from us, to approach whom there is a liberty granted to us by the Gospel. And whosoever continues in the Law, knowingly and willingly deprives himself of the privilege of approaching nigh to God.
18–19 A classical men … de construction sets up the two sides of a sharp contrast: on the one hand, the discarding of the “former regulation” in all its inadequacy, but on the other hand, the introduction of a “better hope.” The focus of the contrast is not so much on the nature of the two dispensations in themselves but on their different effects (not only “weak” but also “useless”). On the one hand, the old system could not “make perfect” (see further on 10:1–4), while on the other hand, the “better hope” enables us to “draw near to God.” So it is made clear that the “perfection” the old system sought and failed to find was the relationship of “nearness” to God, and it will be this theme of approaching God that will in 10:19–23 form the author’s triumphant conclusion to his exposition of the salvation Christ has now provided. If the “former regulation” could not offer that, then it is time for it to go. Notice that in his parenthetical comment in v. 19, the author gets as close as he will ever get to declaring that “the law” itself is no longer worth preserving (see comments at v. 12 above), not just that a specific “regulation” has been set aside.
7:18 / The statements in verses 18 and 19b are linked in the original (cf. rsv “on the one hand” … “on the other hand”). The former regulation (lit., “a former commandment”) refers to the Mosaic legislation concerning the levitical priesthood, which is now set aside (lit., “a setting aside occurs”). This stern note of discontinuity with the law of Moses (anticipated in 7:12; cf. 8:13) is justified by noting that the law was weak and useless (lit., “its weakness and uselessness”). The description of the commandment as weak or ineffective finds a parallel in Paul (Rom. 8:3; cf. Gal. 4:9). The strongest word of all, however, is “uselessness,” which is used in the lxx of Isaiah 44:10 to describe idols (cf. rsv, “profitable for nothing”). The author’s point apparently is that although the law had a proper role to play before the fulfillment brought by the Christ, once that fulfillment has been realized, the law is outmoded and hence useless. It should be noted, however, that it is the law concerning the levitical priesthood and ritual that is particularly in view (cf. 10:9b). The author does not draw further implications.
7:19 / The first sentence in this verse is parenthetical, interrupting the contrast between 18 and 19b. The law literally made nothing perfect. That is, it was unable to bring anything to God’s intended purpose of redemption (cf. 5:9). But in the new situation, which it is the major task of our author to expound, a better hope enters the picture, one which indeed makes it possible to draw near to God, which is exactly what the law of the cultus did not allow, and to realize the fullness of salvation that he promised. Again the language is that of the temple cult, but now transposed to a new key because of the very nature of God’s definitive work in Christ.
7:18–19. Verse 18 shows the weakness of the Law, while verse 19 describes the new hope which Christ’s priesthood provides. Verse 18 makes three statements about the Law and the priesthood connected with it: (1) weak, (2) useless, (3) annulled. The Law provided a standard by which a person could evaluate moral condition, but in its weakness it could not provide life and spiritual vigor to anyone. It was merely a diagnostic tool. It was useless because it could not provide a constant means of access to God. These two deficiencies made it necessary to set the Law aside.
This does not mean that the Law was annulled in that it no longer had any use. It served the function of revealing sin (Rom. 3:20), but it could not bring perfection. It could only demonstrate imperfection. It reminded sinners of their sin. The establishment of a new priesthood meant that the old Levitical priesthood no longer had divine authority. A new priesthood which could give power over sin had come into operation.
Verse 19 introduces a theme of hope (cf. 6:19). The hope Christ provided was better than the empty regulations of the Levitical priesthood and the commandments which produced it. Christ’s priesthood made it possible for sinners to draw near to God (see 10:22 and often in Hebrews).
Wandering sinners seeking for God find much hope in Hebrews. The new priesthood of Melchizedek provided a foundation for such optimism. Believers can draw near to God even though God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). Seekers can actually find God.
18. The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19. (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
This rather lengthy sentence falls into three parts that show balance and contrast. The first part has an explanatory clause that is placed within parentheses.
|the former regulation—a better hope
|is set aside—is introduced
||it was weak and useless—we draw near
||(for the law made
- The first part of the contrast consists of the adjective former and the noun regulation. The word former actually means “introductory” or “that which precedes.” The implication is that the introductory regulation is temporary and will be succeeded by that which is permanent. The author of Hebrews continues to explain the significance of a tentative regulation that must yield to something that is abiding. The regulation was intended for the members of the priesthood; the hope (anchored in Jesus Christ, 6:19–20) is for every believer.
In the second part of this sentence, the adjective better emphasizes the quality of the hope. Although hope was present during the era of the Levitical priesthood, after the sacrifice of Christ hope has taken on a new dimension. The author speaks of better hope in the sense of a true, living, new, and perfect hope. It is the hope that the believer has in Jesus Christ through his gospel. And that good news for the believer—forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and entrance to heaven—constitutes the better hope that surpasses “the former regulation.”
- The second part of the contrast concerns the action of both regulation and hope: the one is set aside, the other is introduced. For the writer to state categorically that the divine command about the Levitical priesthood was discarded and to add that “the law made nothing perfect” called for courage. A believer trained in Old Testament law considered the command about the priesthood in particular and the law in general sacrosanct.
But the author is able to write these words in full confidence. He indicates that the “former regulation” was introductory to something much better. In fact, the “better hope” has arrived and the time has come to put the substitute away. In his providence God instituted the Levitical priesthood. The priests offered animal sacrifices so the people might obtain remission of sin. These sacrifices by themselves could not cleanse the consciences of the believers (9:14) and were inadequate to atone for sin; they pointed to Christ. After Jesus as the Lamb of God brought the supreme sacrifice that “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), the need for animal sacrifices offered by the priests was eliminated.
“A better hope is introduced.” The author does not say to whom or to what we are introduced, but the context reveals that we are brought into the presence of Jesus our high priest. The believer no longer needs to approach God through the services of a mortal priest. He can go directly to Jesus Christ, for through him he has direct access to the throne of grace (4:14–16). His hope, then, is centered in Jesus Christ, his Savior and Lord.
- The third element in the contrast gives the cause and the means. The Levitical priesthood was discarded because the regulation “was weak and useless”; and by a better hope we have access to God.
We nowhere read that the Levitical priesthood and the accompanying regulation were of no value. They had their rightful place in the era prior to the coming of Christ. However, the command with its bearing on the priesthood was “weak and useless.” It was incapable of removing the curse God had pronounced upon the human race; it could not effect eternal salvation for the believer. David testified to the inadequacy of animal sacrifices when he confessed his sin to God: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings” (Ps. 51:16). The command was external and pertained to the duties performed by the priests; it was unable, however, to lead the believer into the presence of God.
What the law could not do, for it made nothing perfect (Rom. 8:3), Jesus did by his perfect sacrifice on the cross: he opened the way to God. In the capacity of high priest Jesus, by entering the Most Holy Place, reconciled God and man. Therefore the believer has full communion with God.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 192–193). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (pp. 171–173). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 97). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Hagner, D. A. (2011). Hebrews (pp. 108–109). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Lea, T. D. (1999). Hebrews, James (Vol. 10, p. 135). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, pp. 197–198). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.