Bible Book Studies: Hebrews 4:1-13

Last week we looked at the author’s argument that the Israelites of Moses’ day had received God’s judgment because of their unbelief. Even though they had been present as witnesses of all the signs and wonders done by God through Moses, they still ultimately rejected God’s plan for them. This is the nature of sin in all of us – to reject God and try to go our own way.

He finished his argument by saying that Jesus was even greater than Moses and he’d been rejected as well. The author then positioned his train of thought to challenge the Jewish readers to carefully consider their own choices regarding Jesus. His concluding sentence from Chapter 3 was “so we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” This is where we pick up with today’s “therefore” statement in Chapter 4.

1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, 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. 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God  would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

The author cautions that the time to make a choice will not last forever, e.g., “the promise of entering his rest still stands”, yet some of his readers will have “failed to reach it.” Reaching God’s rest is tied to belief. Unbelievers do not enter into God’s rest, while “we who have believed enter that rest.” The point is that the people of Moses’ day had an opportunity for a time to believe God and follow Him. However, notice the statement from Numbers 14:22-24, after the spies had been sent in to scout the land of Canaan and the people rebelled against God by disbelieving that He would safely bring them in.
None of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.

Notice that God gave the Israelites of Moses’ day ten opportunities to trust Him, yet they rejected Him each time. It was after the tenth rejection that their time ran out. That’s why the author of Hebrews emphasizes the “Today” part of the Psalm he is quoting from. Make the right choice today while you still have an opportunity.

He then defines what entering into God’s rest is. He points out that if Joshua had ushered in the “rest” for God’s people, then David wouldn’t have written later on (Psalm 95) an invitation about “Today, if you hear his voice”, don’t do like they did and reject God’s invitation for rest. Now this rest is really a two-fold rest: it involves the present-day peace and assurance that obedience to God will bring, but it’s a larger reference to being in God’s presence for eternity and ceasing from the labor of this earthly, mortal life. It’s a picture of the Sabbath. God rested from creation to emphasize a separation of that day of rest from the mundane tasks of the world. It also represents different types of work. Just as God continues to work today (but differently than during His days of creation), we will cease our work on earth but continue “heavenly” work in His presence. This is elaborated on elsewhere in Scripture and I won’t delve into it here.

The author finishes this line of reasons with a verse that is often quoted – “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The point of including this here is to illustrate that fact the scripture continues to provide insight into everyday questions and struggles. The author has utilized Psalm 95, a worship and praise song, to bolster his argument for the immediacy of the need to respond to God’s invitation. He correctly points out that Scripture gives us insight into God’s character because it is HIS words to us. That’s why the next verse is so critical to this one – “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” God’s word allows us to see ourselves through His eyes and call us to repentance and confession.

The last part of the chapter, verses 14-16 are connected in thought with the topic carried on in Chapter 5, so I’ll look at that next week.

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