“He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness” (Hebrews 5:2).
Despite his lofty position, a Jewish High Priest was acquainted with the problems, shortcomings, and weaknesses associated with human life. This enabled him to serve with an attitude of compassion as he represented others before God. As Hebrews 5:2 puts it, “He is able to deal gently with the spiritually ignorant and misguided, since he is also subject to human weakness” (AMP).
We can gain additional insight into this passage through the work of a Biblical scholar who guides us through the definition of “compassion” in the original language of this verse…
“Metri-patheo means to be moderate or tender in judgment toward another’s errors. It speaks of a state of feeling toward the ignorant and the erring which is neither too severe nor too tolerant. The high priest must be careful lest he become irritated at sin and ignorance. He must also take care that he does not become weakly indulgent.” (1)
Another source adds, “This is the capacity to moderate one’s feelings to avoid the extremes of cold indifference and uncontrolled sadness.” (2)
Of course, these qualities were not exclusive to the members of the Old Testament priesthood. For example, the Biblical book of 1 Thessalonians offers a New Testament perspective on this characteristic: “…we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14 ESV).
Not surprisingly, Jesus serves as our example in this regard. For instance. Matthew 9:36 speaks of Jesus’ benevolence towards the multitudes who came to hear Him: “When he saw the crowds, he felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd” (CSB).
Nevertheless, Jesus’ compassion was balanced by His commitment to share the truth about the potential consequences that awaited those who came to hear Him. For instance, Jesus once used a current event to issue a straightforward message to His listeners…
“What about those 18 people who died when the tower at Siloam fell on them? Do you think that they were more sinful than other people living in Jerusalem? No! I can guarantee that they weren’t. But if you don’t turn to God and change the way you think and act, then you, too, will all die” (Luke 13:4-5 GW).
Therefore, we should pray for God’s help in discerning the best way to assist those who are “…ignorant and those who are misled” (CEB).
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Hebrews 5:2) Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(2) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary p. 791