Hebrews xiii. 13
"Without The Camp"
by R. Elliott
"Let us go forth therefore unto Him, without the camp, bearing His reproach" (Heb. 13:13).
In these pregnant words, the writer to the Hebrews reaches the climax of his epistle.
There is in reality a double climax in this letter. One is reached in chapter 10, and we find ourselves within the veil (vs. 19-22); the other is in the verse quoted above, and we find ourselves outside the camp. The one position corresponds with the other.
In verses 12 and 13 of our chapter, we find two expressions: "without the gate," and "without the camp." It is necessary to notice the distinction, in order to grasp the meaning of the change. "Without the gate" signifies rather the geographical position, though we do not limit it to this, but "without the camp" has a moral and religious, as well as spiritual signification. Let us consider first what the writer of the epistle intended the Hebrews to understand by the exhortation; and, secondly, what bearing, if any, it has to-day.
In order to gather up and present the full implication of this exhortation, let us notice:
Three Old Testament Scriptures.
The first is Exodus 33: 1-7. Here we learn that, in consequence of Israel's apostasy (see chapter 32), God refused to go up in their midst. We read: "And Moses took the Tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp . . . And it came to pass that everyone which sought the Lord went out unto the Tabernacle . . . without the camp" (v. 7).
The second is in Numbers 11. God had told Moses to gather unto him seventy men of the elders of Israel and to bring them unto the Tabernacle of the congregation, and God said He would take of the spirit which was upon Moses and put it upon them. We find, however, that two men, Eldad and Meded, did not go out to the Tabernacle, but remained in the camp. Nevertheless we are told, "the Spirit rested upon them. . . . and they prophesied in the camp" (v. 26). Great indignation is aroused, and Joshua calls upon Moses to forbid them. Moses however refuses to forbid them, though he refrains from commending them. "Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets," he exclaims, "and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!" We shall have occasion to return to this again.
The third Scripture is. Leviticus 16: 27, with reference to what occurred on the Day of Atonement.
"And the bullock for the sin offering, and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall one carry forth without the camp, and they shall burn in the fire their skins, and their flesh, and their dung."
All these Scriptures throw light upon the passage we are considering. The camp was connected with a religious system on earth. A system established by God Himself. Normally it should have been His dwelling place. But apostasy, in the form of a system of idolatry, was set up, which forced God to forsake it. He did not altogether forsake His people, but He refused to go up in their midst. The Tabernacle, His dwelling place, was pitched outside.
The epistle to the Hebrews is written in view of another apostasy. According to the parable uttered by our Lord, God had sent His only Son, and the husbandmen—the Jews—had said, "This is the heir, come let us kill Him and let us seize on His inheritance." Christ had "suffered without the gate." The camp order of things is set aside, and another order of things is established. This is why the apostle says, "We (we Christians) have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the Tabernacle," The Tabernacle order and Christianity could not subsist together. Thus the exhortation, "Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach."
Those early Christians were called to go---
Outside a Religious System on earth, which could never meet the requirements of either God or man, and to feed upon Christ's death in a spiritual way (the altar) in His company, inside the veil.
While the camp order of things existed, the way into the holiest was not made manifest. What is to be set aside is foretold in John 10. It is remarkable how much in the epistle to the Hebrews seems like a dissertation on our Lord's words as recorded in this chapter. We are told, "He that entereth in by the door is the Shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calleth his own sheep by name and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them" (vs. 2-4).
This is a parable of what really happened. Christ entered the Jewish fold, not to remain there and continue the existing order of things, but to lead out the true sheep. And in order to do this, He went before them. This He did when He "suffered without the gate," as Hebrews 13 states. "Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate." How powerful, then, the exhortation, "Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach."
There had been a witness to this truth through centuries of Jewish ritual, in the fact that the carcass of the sin offering, where the blood was brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, was burned without the camp. The comment in Leviticus 4: 12, is "unto a clean place." There was no clean place inside the camp. Man, after the flesh, however religious, will not do for God. In the carcass burnt in the ashes, outside the camp, we see the end of the flesh, and of a religious system suited to it. But Christ's death for sin, outside the gate, has opened the way into the holiest. The one speaks of distance, the other of nearness.
Thus we can understand the force of this appeal to the Hebrews. They were called to leave the camp, to leave Judaism. They were called to an outside place on earth; but, at the same time, to know their place within the veil. If identified with a rejected Christ on earth, they knew what it meant to be identified with Him in heaven, and to draw near.
But a further question arises, and one more closely affecting ourselves. Has this exhortation any force at the present time and how does it apply to us? There can be only one answer to this question. And for this reason. The camp order of things is around us on every side to-day. Christendom has returned to the camp. Once more a religious system has been established on earth. Has it ever occurred to the reader that Christendom—i.e. all that is outwardly connected with Christ's name on earth, that which passes before men's eyes under the designation—Church; that this system possesses the features of Judaism in regard to its order, and services, it's ministry and ritual, far more than it is characterized by what is distinctively Christian?
What are the distinctive features of Christianity?
1. All believers are priests. The apostle Peter so designates them, for he says, they "are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices" (1 Pet. 2: 5). But to-day, not only has priesthood become a caste, but we have a so-called sacrificing priesthood, more after the model of the Levitical priesthood than any other, a priesthood that professes to occupy a place between the believer and God.
2. In connection with the new dispensation, there was to be neither temple nor any prescribed material building. The words have just been quoted—"spiritual house"—words which refer to believers, not materials such as brick and stone. (See also Heb. 3: 6; Eph. 2: 21, 22; 1 Cor. 3: 9, 16). Not only are there material buildings on every side of us to-day, but many of them are not even Christian in their conception. A barrier is sometimes placed across one part, as if it were holier than another. How wrong to pretend that a place on earth can be holier than the holiest! The proof that there has been a return to the camp is that all the sense of liberty to enter the holiest has, practically speaking, been lost. The moment the camp order of things is revived, the other can no longer be enjoyed. You cannot have the two.
3. How little is known in Christendom today of worship in spirit and in truth. Music, ritual, ornate services, the observance of days—all these abound. But all this partakes more of Judaism than of Christianity.
4. The truth of Pentecost—the coming of the Holy Spirit—which is the greatest outstanding feature of this dispensation, is little remembered and recognized, much less acted upon. Organization and outward forms have been substituted. A living force no longer operates. The whole character of Christianity has been changed.
Thus we see the very truths which characterize Christianity—the priesthood of all believers; worship of the Father in spirit and in truth; liberty to enter the holiest; a perfect sacrifice once offered; the presence of the Holy Spirit, and all that flows from it—have been to a large extent lost sight of, and instead we have a visible religious system on earth, with forms and ceremonies revived—in other words, the camp.
This being the case, the words, "Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach" have their application to-day, and not merely to a bygone age.
But it may be said, 'Are there not many good people in these systems, and gifted servants of Christ, who are far beyond the systems they are in?' Yes. And this is where the lesson in Numbers 11 comes in. Eldad and Medad were gifted, and no doubt in themselves good men, they were numbered amongst the seventy. They seem to have prophesied equally with the rest, "and the Spirit rested upon them." Nevertheless, they were in the wrong place. And the indignation of Joshua was not altogether unjustified, though Moses declined to act upon his advice. There can be no doubt that outside the camp, and round about the Tabernacle, was the right place, and although Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp in due course, which was a necessity, God did not return, neither did the Tabernacle.
Yes, this solemn exhortation applies as much to us to-day as to the Hebrew Christians. What will enable us to respond?
First, an apprehension of the greatness and worthiness of Him Who suffered without the gate for us. We are called to go forth "unto Him." It is to a Person, and not merely to some doctrine or rite or system.
How great He is we learn from one statement concerning Him in the very chapter we are considering, "Jesus Christ (is) the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever." What was He yesterday? God's Son, by Whom He made the worlds. Heir of all things. The brightness of God's glory and the express image of His substance. (See chapter 1).
What He was yesterday, He is to-day. He is more. For to-day He sits at God's right hand, our Intercessor and Advocate; the revealer of the Father, and the leader of our worship. And "for ever" He is the same as to the glory of His Person, the efficacy of His work, and the fullness and unchangeableness of His love.
Is He not sufficient for us? Shall we fear to go forth to such an One? Can we lack anything or fear anything in such company?
Second. But not only is there all the glory of His Person, there is the attractiveness of His grace. "It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace," vs. 9 tells us. This is contrasted with "divers and strange doctrines" on the one hand, and "meats" on the other; neither of which can profit, for the one appeals only to the intellect, and the other to the senses. Rationalism and ritualism are both insufficient. Grace alone touches the heart and satisfies.
It is the attractive power of grace which draws us to Christ, outside all religious systems. For He is outside such systems, as Rev. 3: 20 clearly indicates. And this accounts for all the darkness and uncertainty in Christendom to-day. Christ is not in the midst, He has taken an outside place.
The grace that draws us to Himself is seen in all its attraction in the place He took on our account. He Who was above all, and entitled to all, and Who possessed all, "suffered without the gate." He could have claimed the throne, and all His earthly people could have offered Him, but He put it all on one side, and took the outside place, for only there, "made sin" and bearing all "ill for us," could He redeem us, so that we can have part with Him. If this does not attract us to Him, what could?
Well may the writer to the Hebrews say, "We have an altar." We eat of the sacrifice and are partakers of the altar. We find "pasture." The perfection of Christ, and the love of His heart, are our food. A love displayed in death—a goodness that faileth never—is what we feed upon. And as we feed, we shall be prepared to leave all and to follow Him "without the camp."