THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS
From Comments and Notes Discussed in Bible Classes and Compiled by F. M. Perry, 1978 through 1998.
With many thanks to James Burton Coffman for hi9s "Commentary on Hebrews" from which these notes have borrowed liberally.
CHAPTER 3 VERSE 1 THROUGH CHAPTER 4 VERSE 13 - CHRIST IS BETTER THAN MOSES.
The main theme of the book of Hebrews is the supremacy of Christ and Christianity over Judaism. In this section, the main theme is advanced another step by showing that Christ is better than Moses.
Moses was the first great apostle from God to the Hebrew people. God sent Moses to the Hebrew people to lead them out of Egyptian bondage and to deliver God's word (Old Covenant) to them. Although Moses served only 40 years of his life as God's apostle to the Hebrews, through God's word which he delivered to them, he in a sense continued to lead them throughout the entire Old Covenant period until Christ came and fulfilled the Old Covenant. So the Jews looked to Moses for God's message, and rightly so during the duration of the Old Covenant.
But now comes one, Jesus, with what seems to many of the Jews a different message. Why should the Jews heed the words of Jesus? Moses was known to have delivered God's word to them. There would have been no good reason for the Jews to heed Jesus except that Jesus was also an Apostle from God. And in His Apostleship, He was far superior to Moses. It was necessary that a Jew come to know this or he would have no incentive whatever to become a Christian. And it was necessary to remind the Jewish Christians of the superiority of Jesus Christ over Moses, so that the Jewish Christians could combat the arguments and pressures that were being brought to bear on them to try to get them to forsake Christianity.
Of course, the word of God delivered through Moses told of the coming Messiah who would fulfill the Mosaic Covenant. It should have led the Jews to expect one such as Jesus to come as the Messiah. And when Jesus came, He did not tear down that Law delivered through Moses. He simply did what the Law had prophesied He would do: He fulfilled it. (Matt. 5:17).
But most of the Jews had allowed their human pride and the traditions of men to blind them to the true promise of the Law of Moses. So they were not looking for One living a life like Jesus, or One dying like Jesus, to be the fulfillment of the Law of Moses. They had to learn and be convinced that this Jesus was truly the Christ and that He was an Apostle superior to Moses.
The first six verses of chapter 3 establish that Christ was personally greater than Moses. It does so without detracting from the honor that is due to Moses. Verse 2 says that both Moses and Christ were faithful to God who appointed them as Apostles. Verse 3, however, says that Christ has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. Thinking of God's creation as a house (and especially in this case, thinking of God's Covenant or Law delivered through Moses as a house) Christ was Himself the builder. Moses was merely a part of the house. Verse 4 then says that the builder of all things is God, again establishing Christ as a part of the almighty Godhead. Moses, of course, was recognized by all Jews merely as a man, a great man indeed in that he was faithful to God. But God Himself in the form of the Christ must be superior to Moses.
Then in verses 5 and 6, again thinking of God's covenants as houses, Moses was merely a servant in his house, while Christ was a Son over His house. The picture then shows Moses' part in the Old Covenant house as that of a servant in that house, while Christ's part in the New Covenant house is that of the Son, or Heir, who inherits the house. And we Christians are Christ's house, the Hebrew writer says. Knowing how superior the Apostle (Christ) is to the apostle (Moses), it would be foolish for one to forsake Christ and go back to following Moses.
Throughout the rest of chapter 3 the focus is on the followers of the two apostles, the Jews as followers of God under Moses, and the Christians as followers of God under Christ. A lesson for Christians is drawn from the example of the conduct of the Jews under Moses and the wrath of God which fell upon them. We are invited by these verses to consider our Christian lives as followers of Christ as pilgrimages similar to those of the Israelites as they followed Moses through the wilderness toward the promised land of Canaan.
Under God's direction Moses led well over a million Israelite people (603,550 men not counting Levites and women and children) out of Egypt to the very border of Canaan. It was clearly demonstrated through the miracles that occurred that God was leading them and protecting them. Yet only two of those who set out from Egypt ever actually crossed over into the land of Canaan to enjoy it. Only Caleb and Joshua of the original group, and the children born along the way during the 40 years in the wilderness actually crossed over the Jordan river and finally took possession of Canaan. All the rest died in the wilderness because they hardened their hearts and provoked God until He swore in His wrath that they should not enter into His rest in the land of Canaan.
From this example the Hebrew writer warns the Hebrew Christians, and all of us who follow Christ, lest we too harden our hearts and provoke God during our pilgrimage on earth. We are admonished in verse 13 to encourage one another daily lest we be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
The Apostle and High Priest of our confession is far superior to Moses, but our human nature is still the same as that of the ancient Israelites. The enemies of God are still the same. The deceitfulness of sin is the same. Many of the trials and temptations of life are the same. Hence, "What was written afore time was written for our learning". (Rom. 15:4). The book of Hebrews constantly quotes "what was written afore time" in order to teach the Hebrews Christians of the first century, and to teach us today as well.
In chapter 4, verses 1-10, the Hebrew letter discusses the that remains for the people of God. This rest is the heavenly rest remaining for the people of God (Christians) of today as well as the people of God since the beginning of the world. There is laid up for every person who belongs to God, whether alive now or dead, a heavenly home not yet actually enjoyed. The land of Canaan was laid up (as a type of that heavenly rest) for the Israelites as they wandered through the wilderness. So now the great goals of the pilgrimages under the Apostles are compared. One of the great goals of Moses' leadership was the rest or the ease and repose which the people would enjoy in Canaan. This rest in Canaan was promised in contrast with the toils and trials which they had endured in Egypt and in the wilderness wanderings. One of the goals of Christ's leadership is the rest which all people of God will enjoy in heaven when Christ comes again to claim God's people. This rest is in contrast to the toils and trials which the people of God suffer in this life on earth.
Considering first the rest for the Israelite nation, the idea of rest was a very pleasant and consoling thought to the Israelites. They had long been accustomed to reflect on the many pleasures and advantages of a sanctified rest. They had regularly observed the weekly Sabbath rest. And they had the habit under the Mosaic Law of sanctifying many other days such as the first day of every month, the first and last days of the feast of unleavened bread, etc. And they even celebrated entire sabbatical years and the 50th year of Jubilee. So under Moses they knew the enjoyment of rest.
Now, in showing the superiority of Christ's leadership over that of Moses, it is necessary to show that although there are no longer sanctified days of rest while we live here on earth, there is a heavenly rest remaining for the people of God that far transcends in importance any earthly rest that was ever enjoyed under Judaism.
But this must have been a point of contention between Jews and Christians at the time the Hebrew letter was written. Indeed, it is a point of contention between Jews and Christians even today. Most of the Old Testament references to the heavenly rest were in types and shadows, that is, temporal representations, like the Sabbath day rest (on Saturday). The Jews could argue that there was nothing more intended or implied than the mere temporal rest to which the Prophets primarily referred. So many of the Jews rejected the idea that these were types of heavenly things.
But the Hebrew writer meets this argument very effectively here in these first ten verses of chapter 4. He refers to Psalm 95:11from which he proves that God in His wrath had sworn to the Israelites under Moses that they should not enter into his rest. This could not have been the weekly Sabbath rest which God swore they should not have, because the Israelites were enjoying that weekly rest and did so for the entire period of their pilgrimage in the wilderness. Hence it follows that there must be another rest for the people of God, a rest into which the rebellious Israelites under Moses could never enter. And, of course, the most immediate fulfillment of that prophecy from God is seen in the fact that only two of the original congregation of more than a million people were allowed to enter into the promised land of Canaan.
The Jews understood this much of God's prophecy concerning the rest laid up for the people of God in the land of Canaan. But then they might argue that the promise of God guaranteeing rest to His people was wholly fulfilled when Joshua and Caleb took the new generation of Israelites into Canaan. They could argue that there was no more rest laid up for the people of God other than the possession of the land of Canaan. The Hebrew writer meets that argument by again referring to Psalm 95 and proves from it that even in the time of David, when Psalm 95 was written, the Israelites had possessed the land of Canaan for nearly 500 years, even then there was a danger that the living generation would, like their fathers, be excluded from the promised rest. The point is that in the time of David, God's word spoke of a rest still to come for the people of God. And the Hebrew writer clearly points out that this rest was still to come when he wrote Hebrews, and, we conclude, if still to come then, the rest is still to come today in this same Christian era. For if Joshua had given them the final rest in the land of Canaan, God would not have spoken of another rest in the words of the writer of Psalm 95.
Moses led the people toward a mere temporal, earthly rest in the land of Canaan. Christ leads His people to the eternal heavenly rest. The conclusion is: A Jewish Christian should not want to turn back to Judaism and the leadership of Moses and miss his chance to enter the eternal heavenly rest under the leadership of Christ.
There are disclosed here in chapter 4 some more very important facts concerning God's heavenly, spiritual rest which remains for the people of God.
1. The heavenly rest was prepared and finished by God "from the foundation of the world" (Hebrews 4:3). That fact alone should lead us to understand that the rest is prepared for all people of God who have lived since the foundation of the world.
2. The rest that the rebellious Israelites "shall not enter" was not only referring to the rest in Canaan but also the heavenly rest which for them might have been yet to come. God proclaimed through the writer of Psalm 95, 500 years after the bodies of those Israelites died in the wilderness, "They shall not enter My rest". And, thus, they have not entered His rest and will not enter it when the people of God enter it at the judgment. The souls and spirits of those Israelites are prepared by God, even till now, and will be preserved until judgment, but they are not preserved for God' s heavenly rest because of sin (Hebrews 3:27), because of disobedience (Hebrews 3:18), because of unbelief(Hebrews 3:19), and because God's word was not united by faith in them (Hebrews 4:2). Here we see lack of faith, unbelief, disobedience, and sin all equated one to the other. And so it continues to be true to this day. If one has faith, he is obedient. If one is disobedient, he does not believe.
3. It is very instructive for us to see in Hebrews 4:2 that the gospel (good news) which was preached to the Hebrew Christians (and to us today) was also preached to the Israelites. This gospel was, that you can be saved for the heavenly rest by faith in God. And further, faith (or belief) on the part of the Israelites under Moses was not reckoned without their obedience. In these respects the gospel preached to the Israelites by Moses in the wilderness is the same as the gospel preached to us in the wilderness of this life by Christ. This is not hard to understand considering that chapter 3 verse 3 told us that Christ Himself was the builder of the Old Testament house through which the gospel was preached to the Israelites, and Moses, the preacher of that gospel, was merely a servant of Christ. The gospel preached to the Israelites by Moses and the Prophets was actually preached by the Holy Spirit of Christ using angels, and Moses, and the Prophets as His vessels of mercy.
We are reminded of the words of the Holy Spirit of Christ through Paul, who said in Romans 1:16-17, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 'But the righteous man shall live by faith."' Paul spoke there of the gospel of faith that he preached and he equated it with the gospel of faith which Habakuk preached (Hab. 2:4) under the Old Covenant.
And Peter tells us in 1st Peter 4:18-20 that it was the Holy Spirit of Christ preaching through Noah when Noah preached to the people of the world concerning salvation from the coming destruction by the wrath of God.
The Hebrew letter will have much more to say in chapter 11 about this salvation by faith that has been available to men since the foundation of the world. Chapter 11 verse 2 says that men of old "gained approval" by faith (faith which clearly included obedience), and the examples of men who were saved by faith mentioned there in chapter 11 verse 2 start with Abel (son of Adam and Eve) and go on through history to Samuel and David. Chapter 11 closes with the statement "that apart from us (that is, apart from Christians) they (the men of old) should not be made perfect". This negative statement infers the positive statement that "with us they shall be made perfect."
In summary, the great insight into God's plan that we gain from all these passages is that Christ, from His position in the Godhead, has been preaching to the world the gospel of salvation by faith since the foundation of the world. Men of old, along with us of the Christian dispensation, have had opportunity to be made perfect through Christ. God's heavenly rest has been prepared since the time that God Himself rested on the 7th day from His labors of creation. All men since that time have had opportunity to become part of those who are called in Hebrews "the people of God", and have had opportunity to assure themselves of entering God's heavenly rest where only the man, Jesus Christ, has entered as yet (4:10).
This section of Hebrews in chapters 3 and 4 which compares Christ to Moses, closes in verses 11-13 of Chapter 4 with a renewed admonition that we be diligent to enter that rest, and that we do not fall in the wilderness of this world because of disobedience.
We today must remember that God equates disobedience with unbelief. One cannot say He believes, or that he is faithful, if he is disobedient. The Hebrew writer cited the example of the disobedient. unbelieving Israelites who fell in the wilderness. They could not hide their sin from God. So today, we may deceive one another, we may be deceived, and sometimes we may even deceive ourselves. But we cannot escape the judgment of the word of God. In chapter 4 verse 12 it is said that the word of God is like a two edged sword except that it is sharper, and also living and active as no sword could ever be, to actually cut between things that are not of flesh, but the soul from the spirit, and lay bare the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Praise God! For there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. God provides it. It will not fail to be there. Only we have the choice to be diligent and enter that rest, or to fall short of it. If we fall short, let there be no misunderstanding about why. It will only be because of the intention of our proud human souls to be disobedient. Disobedience is, in the final analysis, unbelief, and disobedience is sin. In the wilderness of this earthly life we will persevere to the border of heavenly Canaan, or we will fall by the wayside because of the sin of disobedience.
If disobedience can be the cause of our fall, then it is faith with obedience that will take us to the eternal rest God has provided. The way is not hard to find. It is not an extremely difficult task for us to gain the heavenly rest. God has provided a clearly marked trail for us to follow. While the word of God lays bare our souls, it also leads our bare souls through the Spirit on a clearly marked "walk" through the wilderness of life. We need only be obedient to take the steps prescribed in the word. I recommend we re-read Romans 6 and 8 to see how really simple it is to walk the Christian life. Let us now back to chapter 3 and look at the verses in more detail.
"(1) Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession." Hebrews 3:1, NASV.
"Holy brethren" is the third term of endearment already used in the Hebrew letter. The other two are "sanctified" and "sons" used in chapter 2. That mortal men could be considered "holy" is due only to the imputation of Christ's righteousness to them for no man can make himself "holy." And that "holiness" imputed to Christians is "sealed" by Christians receiving "the gift of the Holy Spirit" subsequent to their being "baptized into Christ." (Acts 2;38). Thus the holiness of the Jewish Christians, who are specifically addressed in this letter, was not in any sense a consequence of their being born of Jewish parents.
The phrase, "partakers of a heavenly calling," is a reference to the universal and eternal dimensions of the Christian life, which, although lived out at present on earth, is a heaven-centered faith, its emphasis being emphatically upon things in heaven, rather than things upon the earth. This concept pervades the whole book of Hebrews and makes even the most sacred things on earth the mere copies of things in heaven. Here is a reference to the spiritual and eternal inheritance of Christians, as contrasted with the mortal and earthly goals of Judaism.
The name Jesus is used here in calling Christ "the Apostle and High Priest of our confession." Nowhere else in scripture is the title "Apostle" applied to Christ. But it certainly fits the office of our Lord as the official messenger from heaven, since the primary meaning of the word is "one sent for some important communication." Also, there are other descriptions of Christ's work in scripture which fit the meaning of "Apostle." An Old Testament prophecy in Malachi 3:1 named Him "the messenger of the covenant." And Jesus referred to His own work in John 12:49 as follows: "The Father that sent Me, He hath given me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak."
An additional implication in the meaning of the word "Apostle" is that the person sending is greater in dignity than the one sent. The Hebrew writer uses the name "Jesus" here apparently because it was the name used when the human nature of our Lord is meant. It was only in His human nature that the lesser dignity of "Apostle" could be imputed to Christ, because in His eternal nature, He was equal to God the Father. (Phil. 2:6).
Christ's representation here as a "High Priest" is a part of the argument for his superiority over Moses, who was not a high priest. Moses was prophet, mediator, and king (in a sense); but the office of high priest pertained only to Aaron. Christ was all that Moses was, and more; he was also High Priest.
The term "our confession" used in verse 1 is not reference to some formal subscription to a creed that some denominations have. It is used here to mean the holy religion of Christ. The "confession" is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
"(2) He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all his house. (3) For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house." Hebrews 3:2-3. NASV.
Verse 3 singles out the principle superiority of Christ over Moses and affords another glimpse of the deity and Godhead of Christ, making Christ to be the builder of the house in which Moses served. This is then a reiteration of those immense claims that were made about Christ in the first paragraph of Chapter 1. It was long centuries after God had built or established that house in which Moses served, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem; and the identification of Jesus in this verse as the builder of that house places Him on an equality with God working in the Godhead long before Be was born on earth.
"(4) For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God." Hebrews 3:4. NASV.
Here we see that ancient and indestructible argument based on design identifying the Creator. It is stated first in the truism that every house has a builder, and secondly in the deduction that the far greater house of the whole universe likewise has its builder who can be none other than God. Christians ought not be ashamed of the argument from design; for here it is in the word of God itself, commending itself to the unbiased mind, and standing absolutely uncontravened by any of the great achievements of science.
"(5) Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later;" Hebrews 3:5. NASV.
In this verse we see that Moses was not only the servant who delivered the Judaic system to the Jews, but he was also the deliverer embryonically of the Christian system. In the prophecies about Christ, in the minute details of the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and in the definite instructions for all the feasts, sacrifices, and ceremonies of the Judaic system, all so faithfully delivered by Moses, the entire body of truth delivered by Moses foretold and eventually proved the redemptive ministry of Christ. The Christian system is contained prophetically in the Old Testament. (The arguments of the Hebrew letter are all taken from the Old Testament.) Moses did not merely deliver the Judaic system of religion; but, in the sense that the flower is contained in the bud, he delivered the Christian system also, identified in this verse as "those things which were to be spoken later."
"(6) But Christ was faithful as a Son over His house whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end." Hebrews 3:6. NASV.
Restating the supremacy of Christ as a Son, the Hebrew writer names Christians as components of God's house, "whose house we are." The old Israel is no more! The Son having been revealed, people are no longer under a servant, even so true and faithful a servant as Moses. (Rom. 2:28; 9:6-8; Gal.6:l5; John 8:39). Think of the house of God. God laid the foundations of it, even before the world was. (1 Cor. 2:7), provided the blueprints of it in the dispensation of Moses, and extended it upward and outward to include also the families of men in the church which belongs to Christ; and, finally, He shall present all to Himself in that glorious fulfillment of the everlasting Kingdom at the last day. (2 Peter 1:11). ,
"(7) Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, 'Today if you hear His voice, (8) do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, (9) where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, and saw My works for forty years. (10) 'Therefore I was angry with this generation, and said, 'They always go astray in their heart; and they did not know My ways;' (11) 'As I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest."' Hebrews 3:7-11. NASV.
This quotation is from Psalm 95:7ff. Note that this psalm is attributed to the Holy Spirit of God. The Jews were all well aware of the history of the wilderness wanderings of Israel, the shameful record of which was outlined in their scriptures (Ex. 17; Num. 13, 14; Deut. 9:10). Thus the warning in this place is dramatically intensified by an appeal to the historic disaster that prevented a whole generation from entering Canaan.
"Today if you hear His voice" is an appeal for action now! The consequences of failure are so supremely tragic, and the tendency to procrastination so universal, that action is demanded now, today! One steals who presumes upon tomorrow; tomorrow belongs to God; "Behold now is the acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation." (2 Cor. 6 : 2) .
"Do not harden your hearts" is another admonition that affixes the responsibility and blame for hardness of heart upon the hardened one himself. Only in the sense of God permitting it, is it ever correct to believe that God hardens hearts.
The question arises here as to how the defection of the Israelites in the wilderness was applicable to the situation confronting the Christians to whom Hebrews was addressed. To be sure, all the things that happened to ancient Israel were ensamples for them that believe (1 Cor. 10:1-10); but even more is apparent1y intended here. The whole typical structure of Israel corresponds to many facts and events in Christianity. The death of Christ is called "an exodus" (founded on Luke 9:31); Christ is the true passover sacrificed for His people (1 Cor. 5:7); he is the Lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1: 19); Christians during their life on earth are said to be like Israel of old, "the church in the wilderness" (Acts 7: 38) ; and as a commentator, Bruce, pointed out, "Their (the Christians') baptism is the antitype of Israel's passage through the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:lff); their sacrificial feeding on Him (Christ) by faith is the anti- type of Israel's nourishment with manna and the water from the rock (1 Cor. 10:3ff); Christ, the living Rock, is their guide through the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:4); the heavenly rest that lies before them is the counterpart to the earthly Canaan which was the goal of the Israelites."
The physical death which overtook the lost generation in the wilderness was but a physical penalty for their rebellion against God; and, although they were never allowed to reacquire the lost advantage in the physical sense of entering Canaan, it may rightfully be supposed that all of them who repented and brought themselves into harmony with God's purpose still retained the hope of eternal life, Moses Himself being a prime example of this. Far more dreadful, therefore, was the danger threatening the Hebrew Christians who, if they fell away, stood to suffer the loss of even "all spiritual blessings" that are in Christ.
"They shall not enter My rest" refers to the prohibition by which God refused admittance of Israel to Canaan. But it immediately loomed in the Hebrew writer's mind as a type of that rest the Hebrew Christians were in danger of forfeiting.
"(12) Take care, Brethren, lest there should be in anyone of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God." Hebrews 3:12. NASV.
Five definite facts emerge from this verse:
1. That it is possible for Christians to fall away from the living God,
2. That such a disaster is due to an unbelieving heart,
3. That an unbelieving heart is evil (not merely "smart"),
4. That God is not a mere influence but a living Person, and
5. That there are adequate grounds upon which a Christian may avoid falling away.
Regarding the possibility of apostasy so forcibly mentioned here, it should be noted that the Bible nowhere authorizes any confidence to the contrary. Apostasy comes under consideration again in Chapter 6, verses 1-8. where from its treatment there, it cannot possibly be doubted that the Hebrew writer is warning his readers against a present real, and impending danger, a threat to any Christian who might allow an evil heart of unbelief to develop within him. Indeed, if there is no such thing as the possibility that a true child of God might fall away and be lost, (as many of the denominations teach) how could the Hebrew writer have introduced such a subject, and how could he have warned them to "take heed" against a non-existent danger?
"An evil heart of unbelief" contains another intimation of the moral basis of faith. Unbelief does not exist apart from evil in men's hearts. Christ said, "And this is the judgment, that light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil." (John 3:19). Men who have accepted the truth and are actually in the faith of Christ, if they do not live up to the moral requirements of that faith, become alienated from it, grow to despise and hate it, and at last find themselves in rebellion against God.
"(13) But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today", lest anyone of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Hebrews 3:13. NASV.
Another translation says, "Exhort one another day by day." The persons so strongly commanded here to encourage and exhort, and the persons to be exhorted can be none other than the Christian membership itself, manifested in their most personal relationships, such as families, congregations, fellow-workers, and close associates of every kind.
"(14) For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end;" Hebrews 3:14. NASV.
"For we have become partakers of Christ." The union of Christ and his members provides the entire foundation of the Christian hope. Those who believe and obey Christ partake of His righteousness by imputation; receive the judicial discharge from their sins by means of His sacrifice; and look forward to entering heaven itself by having become members of His spiritual body, the church.
Believers are to continue faithfully and enthusiastically "to the end." What "end?" Any end whatsoever! Perhaps the words "to the end" are unspecific on purpose in order to cover a range of meanings such as (1) the end of a particular period of temptation, (2) the end of life, (3) the end of the world, and (4) perhaps even "the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:9).
"(15) While it is said, 'Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.' (16) For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses?" Hebrews 3:15-16. NASV.
Here is a solemn warning against trusting in a majority, or what is popular. The Hebrew writer pointedly reminds the Jewish Christians that the wilderness failure of Israel was on a national scale, supported by the overwhelming majority, and popularly led and advocated by the great princes of Israel. (Num. 13:3-16). The exception to the majority who rebelled is so small that the Hebrew writer says "all those who came out of Egypt." This emphasizes the point. The exception was so small that the names of only two, Caleb and Joshua, have come down through history as repudiating the majority.
"(17) And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?" Hebrews 3:17. NASV.
Israel deserved to die instantly for their sin when they refused to enter the land of Canaan, and God was ready to punish them at that time. But God yielded to the intercession of Moses (Ex. 32:32). In this the heavenly mercy and forbearance of God was observed, not only in the forty year period of His patience with Israel, but also in the fact that He waited until they all died of natural causes rather than directly by divine fiat. So this physical judgment against them, in forbidding them to enter Canaan, did not compromise their right of eternal salvation based upon their faith, repentance, and obedience subsequent to their rebellion. But the lesson of the Hebrew letter to the Hebrew Christians under the new covenant was that their apostasy from Christ would incur an even more terrible penalty in that they stood to forfeit heaven itself.
"(18) And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? (19) And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief." Hebrews 3:18-19. NASV.
The Book of Hebrews makes a great thing of obedience, affirming that even Christ was made perfect by it (Heb. 5:8-9) and that the salvation that He offered is "unto all them that obey him." In verse 18 disobedience is made the basis of God's denying Israel the right to enter Canaan, which is the "rest" spoken about.
Verse 19 shows that the exclusion of Israel grew out of moral necessity, their unbelief having betrayed them into outright rebellion against God. The application, of course, is that, if God spared not the Israelites, neither will He spare Christians guilty of the same conduct.
"(1) Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, anyone of you should seem to have come short of it." Hebrews 4:1. NASV.
The Hebrew writer says "let us fear." Why should Christians fear? It is simply because great and eternal rewards are subject to forfeit as long as Christians are in the flesh. A powerful and aggressive foe in the person of Satan and his hosts are opposed to us, and the multitude of distractions of earthly life can produce the one moment in life in which inattention can lead to everlasting ruin.
While the immediate meaning of the word "rest" to the Israelites on the east bank of the Jordan was to enter the land of Canaan, the usage of the word is far more varied and extensive than merely entering Canaan. It is a concept that is made to stand for all the spiritual and eternal rewards of faith. The Christian rest includes rest in Christ, as procured by taking His yoke and learning of Him (Matt. 11: 28, 29), rest from the labors of life on earth (Rev. 14:13), and rest with the Lord in Heaven throughout all eternity. Although the Hebrew writer might have preached about the Christian rest from the standpoint of Christ's teachings and those of the Apostles, he elected to base his appeal upon the Old Testament. Perhaps he felt that an Old Testament argument was better designed to woo the Hebrew Christians back from a possible reversion to Judaism. The Hebrew Christians, having come from Judaism, would likely know that about five hundred years after Israel entered Canaan, the Holy Spirit spoke through David in Psalm 95:7-11 of there being a rest for God's people, indicating that their final entry into Canaan was not the full attainment of that rest, and that something much more than that was involved.
"(2) For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard." Hebrews 4:2. NASV.
Here the Hebrew writer speaks of the "good news" preached to "us" Christians, and the "good news" preached to Israel as they were about to enter Canaan. This "good news," or gospel, was not exactly the same in each case but it was "good news" in each case and the Old was a type of the New. So just as the Israelites received a good word about the promised rest, so have Christians. A similarity between the two gospels is mentioned, that is in the source of the faith deemed necessary to entering the promised rest. That source is "the word they heard" (or, a "word of hearing"). We know that faith comes by hearing God's word (Rom. 10:16ff). This has always been true, in the Old as well as the New Testaments. So it has always been God's word itself that has the power to enter the heart and produce faith.
"(3) For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, 'As I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest,' although His works were finished from the foundation of the world." Hebrews 4:3. NASV.
The writer tells the Hebrew Christians ("we who have believed") to enter that rest (present tense). This seems to stress the first and immediate phase of the Christian's rest which are the believers' benefits and joys of Christian service which are already his and are being enjoyed by him. And the calling of attention to the first phase of the Christians' rest which occurs during his life on earth, reminds those acquainted with Israelite history that Israel actually failed to receive and enjoy their rest after entering into Canaan. They did not in fact enter into God's rest in the better sense of becoming a holy nation of righteous and devoted worshipers of God. Instead, they rebelled against God time and again; they rejected the theocracy and direction by God through His judges, and demanded a King like the nations around them. They worshiped idols, oppressed the poor, and even made their children pass through the fire to Molech! Thus, while entering a type of God's rest, they failed to attain any reality of it. And the Israelites failed in spite of the fact that God was fully prepared to welcome them into a glorious rest which He had been anticipating "from the foundation of the world."
"(4) For He has thus said somewhere concerning the seventh day, 'And God rested on the seventh day from all His works;' (5) and again in this passage, 'They shall not enter My rest.'" Hebrews 4:4-5. NASV.
The "somewhere" in scripture for the writer's statement, "He has said somewhere," seems to be Genesis 2:2. The argument is that God's resting on the seventh day, unaccompanied by any subsequent declaration that He had left off resting, makes the rest of God still available for them that will receive it, as it has been since God finished creation. The rest God promised His people is thus a share of His own rest, and goes to believers who render faithful and humble obedience to God's will.
The quotation "They shall not enter My rest" is from Psalm 95: 11. This was not meant by the Hebrew writer as an argument for man's keeping the Sabbath day. The argument is that a rest still remains because it has not yet been entered by the Israelites. The rest, at this point in the Hebrew letter, does not mean entering Canaan, nor keeping the Sabbath day. They did that. Thus the rest spoken of here must be referenced back to the rest of God Himself which is still in progress. This is a rest the Jews could have entered but did not, and likewise a rest that many now have the right to enter, but may come short of it.
"(6) Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, (7) He again fixes a certain day, 'Today,' saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, 'Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.'" Hebrews 4:6-7. NASV.
Verse 6 is a summary of the argument. God desires and has purposed from all eternity that some shall enter into His rest; and, seeing that Israel did not, as proved by David's saying so in Psalm 95, the way is still open for whomsoever will accept the invitation.
In verse 7, the writer repeats the scriptural basis for his argument. He appeals again to Psalm 95:7-11 ascribed to David. The argument turns on the fact that it was "long afterward" (about 500 years) that David urged the people at that time, "today," to hear God's voice, to refrain from hardening their hearts, and to enter the rest of God. The writer thus proved that the rest, in its full substantive meaning, had not been entered by Israel, that it was open for 500 years after Canaan was entered, and that it was still available when the Hebrew letter was written. This is mentioned several times in the letter and seems to be an example of the use of repetition to drive home a point. Thus the often repeated refrain, 'Today ... harden not your hearts."
"(8) For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that." Hebrews 4:8. NASV.
Of course, Joshua did lead the Israelites into Canaan, which was a type of the rest. But the Hebrew writer is speaking of the true substance of the rest. If the rest Joshua led them into had been the true substance of the promised rest, then David would not have held it up as something yet unattained a long time after the death of Joshua.
Perhaps the Hebrew writer wished to have his readers think about the comparison of Christ who leads His people into the real substantive rest, and Joshua who merely led the Israelites across a border into Canaan. There are more contrasts than similarities between them.
1. Joshua's leadership benefitted himself and his immediate posterity (Josh. 18:49, 50); Christ's ministry benefitted not Himself but His followers only, for the rest that Christ made available to His disciples was already His own.
2. Joshua did not alone conquer Canaan but was aided by all the Israelites; Christ waged His battle entirely alone (Isa. 63:3).
3. The conquest of Canaan did not cost Joshua either wounds or death; but Jesus won the land of promise at the cost of suffering and death (1 Peter 1:18, 19).
4. Joshua could not totally expel the old inhabitants of Canaan; but the victory of Christ was complete over death, sin, Satan, and the grave.
"(9) There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. (10) For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His." Hebrews 4:9-10. NASV.
In verse 9, the term "Sabbath rest" refers, I believe, to the rest which God took after creation and does not merely mean a rest on the seventh day of each week. It refers to the divine rest from "the foundation of the world," and it is offered to true believers, not just to Israelites, as indicated by the inclusive phrase "the people of God."
In verse 10, the phrase "the one who has entered into His rest" probably means the rest which any true follower of Jesus enters upon his becoming a Christian. There may also be an application to Christ, for He did indeed finish the work of His earthly ministry and entered into that eternal rest to which His followers are invited. All who will receive it are invited; and Christ, as the representative man, has already entered upon that rest.
"(11) Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience. (12) For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (13) And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." Hebrews 4:11-13. NASV.
Referring to the phrase of verse 11,"Let us be diligent to enter that rest," do men actually enter that rest during the present life? The answer appears to be affirmative, but only in the sense of receiving it as an inheritance to be possessed now but actually entered only in the eternal realm.
But verse 12 intimates that our entrance upon that rest in the eternal realm is dependent upon the action of the "word of God" upon us, and our reaction to the word of God, and that would refer to our present life on earth. The word of God is likened in its penetrating power to a two-edged sword in warfare, which is able to slash into a body clear to the bone, and where it may even cut through the bone exposing the marrow inside the bone. In comparison, the word of God is said to pierce even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. It is this action of the word of God on our hearts and our soul's reaction to it that determines whether or not we actually enter upon the rest of God.
This verse 12 did not make too much sense to me until I realized that the soul and the spirit of a person are two separate components and that they have different functions within a person. The soul is associated with the unique things that make up an individual person, such things as intellect, will power, and emotions. The spirit is that carrier of life that came from God to give life to the fleshly body and start the soul and body of the person to functioning. It is associated with such things as conscience, and intuition, and communion with God's Holy Spirit who dwells within the Christian's fleshly temple, the fleshly body.
Verse 12 tells us that it is essential that our human spirits (as distinguished from our souls) be free, that is, free to commune with God's Holy Spirit in the offering of our prayers to God and in the confirmation of God's word to us, especially through channels of intuition and conscience. But the spirit of the natural man, who does not really know God, is not free but is overpowered by the natural soul. That is, the natural) person's own intellect, will-power, and emotions will demand to be heard and acted upon in the person's life rather than the communications from God's word. That is why our Lord said "He who has found his soul shall lose it, and he who has lost his soul for My sake shall find it." (Matt. 10:39; Matt. 16:25). The point is that one must put his natural soul functions in the back seat and give prime attention to what the spirit says, if one is truly to be a follower of Christ.
The problem is that the natural man has a soul which smothers his spirit and the only thing which can "cut away" that soul from around the spirit is the word of God, living and active, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, so that the spirit, with God's message from the word, can discern and change the thoughts and intents of the purely natural and selfish heart. And finally it dawned upon me that here in verse 12 was a description of the "circumcision of the heart" which Paul talked about in Romans 2:28,29, "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh, but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, and not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God." And again in Phil. 3:3 Paul said, "For we are the true circumcision who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh."
So verse 12 presents God's word as totally different from the word of men which grows only out of the mere human aspects of man. But the word of God is infinite in power, all seeing in discernment, and able to pierce any human subterfuge.
The words of verse 13 apparently refer in type to the Old Testament practice of laying the slain animal on the altar for the purpose of examining it to see if it was worthy to be made a burnt offering. The animal was stripped of its skin, it was ripped open, the bowels were taken out, and the backbone was cleft. Then it was divided into quarters so that outwardly and inward1y it was fully exposed to the eye of the priest, in order to a thorough examination (Lev. 1:5, 6); and being found without blemish, it was laid upon the altar and burnt. This, perhaps, is the explanation of the image in the Hebrew writer's mind that caused him to mention such things as joints and marrow, with a significant warning to Christians that the word of God is able to discover blemishes or taints of character by means of the most thorough and accurate discernment of the entire man. This is the spiritual equivalent of the priest's minute examination of the ancient animal sacrifice.