THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS
Lesson 5: Chapter 3:7-4:16
DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS IF YOU WANT TO ENTER INTO GOD'S REST
Often our cry is the cry of St. Augustine, Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief. The Israelites of the Exodus experience witnessed so many great works at Your hands, and yet they suffered from a malaise of their own making that prevented them from attaining the promise of entering Your rest, they suffered from the deadly disease of self-inflected doubt that generated hardened hearts. Something that is hardened or calloused is rough and unyielding. The ears of those with hardened hearts hear Your words but the message cannot penetrate beyond their rebellious callousness and therefore they refuse to yield their souls in obedience, trust and faithfulness. Help us Lord, send Your Holy Spirit to soften our hearts so that we may yield trusting hearts to You and not only hear but respond in obedience to the teachings in Your message to the Hebrew-Christians of the first century AD, a message as relevant to them then as it is to us today. We pray in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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Many have evil, unbelieving hearts. To have an evil, unbelieving heart means to have no faith. Evil is the love of property, wantonness, alcohol, and the like... Beware that your heart may not become evil and unbelieving; unbelief, he says [inspired writer of Hebrews], is separation from the living God. Photius [ca. 820-891], Fragments on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 3.12
They [the Israelites of the Exodus] died, for they could not enter the Promised Land. They merely looked over toward the land of promise, but they could not enter in. The Jews beheld the Promised Land but could not enter it. They died in the desert.... We, their children, under the leadership of Jesus, have come to the Jordan and entered the Promised Land. St. Jerome, Homilies on the Psalms
There must still be, therefore, a seventh-day rest reserved for God's people, since to enter the place of rest is to rest after your work, as God did after his. Let us, then, press forward to enter this place of rest, or some of you might copy this example of refusal to believe and be lost. Hebrews 4.9-11
Our heart is restless until it rests in you. St. Augustine, Confessions 1.1
The translation used in this lesson is the New American Catholic Bible translation.
In the last lesson the inspired writer compared the faithfulness and trustworthiness of the great prophet Moses with Jesus, claiming that although both were faithful and trustworthy, Jesus' reward of honor and glory was greater than that of the servant Moses. Jesus is not just a faithful trustworthy servant like the great Lawgiver of the Old Covenant, but He is a faithful and trustworthy Son who was entrusted not just with the Law and the tabernacle as Moses was entrusted, but the Son was entrusted with the souls of men and women as both the new Lawgiver and the High priest of the heavenly sanctuary. In this next section, the inspired writer uses Psalm 95:6 (7)-11 as both a dire warning and a future hope; warning New Covenant Jewish Christians of their ancestors who failed in faith and obedience in the Exodus journey and died in the wilderness, never to enter the Promised Land and offering the hope of eternal salvation in the heavenly sanctuary which is the true Promised Land.
Psalms 95 recalls the judgment on the rebellious children of Israel who did not "hold fast to our confidence and pride in our hope" in God and His provisions for His covenant people (Hebrews 3:6).
Old Testament passages quoted or referenced in this lesson (bold print = quoted or referenced section) from New American Old Testament translation
Psalm 95:6-11 (LXX, 94:6-11): 6 Enter, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before (Yahweh) the LORD* who made us! 7 For this is our God, whose people we are, God's well-tended flock. Oh, that today you would hear his voice: 8 Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the desert. 9 There your ancestors tested me; they tried me though they had seen my works. 10 Forty years I loathed that generation; I said: "This people's heart goes astray; they do not know my ways." 11 Therefore I swore in my anger: "They shall never enter my rest." Hebrews 3:7b-11; 4:7 = underlined. LXX and Hebrews 3:8 has instead of Meribah and Massah, the literal meaning of these place names: "contention or rebellion" and "testing"; see Exodus 17:7 and Numbers 20:13
Hebrews 3:17: dead bodies fell in the desert. Reference = Numbers 14:29. Numbers 14:26-29: 26 (Yahweh) The LORD* also said to Moses and Aaron: 27 "How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of Israelites against me. 28 Tell them: By my life, says (Yahweh) the LORD, I will do to you just what I have heard you say. 29 Here in the desert shall your dead bodies fall.
*LORD written in capital letters is the divine name YHWH or Yahweh in the literal text.
Please read Hebrews 3:7-17, Warning: Listen to God and be obedient (Old Testament Scripture quotations in bold type)
7Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says:
"Oh, that today you would hear his voice, 8 harden your hearts, as at the rebellion as at the time of testing in the desert, 9 when your ancestors tested and tried me, and saw my works 10 for forty years."
Because of this I was provoked with that generation and I said, "They have always been of erring heart, and they do not know my ways."
11 As I swore in my wrath,
"They shall not enter into my rest."
12 Take care, brothers, that none of you may have an evil and unfaithful heart, so as to forsake the living God. 13 Encourage yourselves daily while it is still "today," so that none of you may grow hardened by the deceit of sin. 14 We have become partners of Christ if only we hold the beginning of the reality firm until the end, 15 for it is said:
"Oh, that today you would hear his voice: 'Harden not your hearts as at the rebellion.'"
16 Who were those who rebelled when they heard? Was it not all those who came out of Egypt under Moses? 17 With whom was he "provoked for forty years"? Was it not those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the desert? 18 And to whom did he "swear that they should not enter his rest," if not to those who were disobedient? 19 And we see that they could not enter for lack of faith.
1. Hebrews 3:7-11: Addressing testing and unbelief in which the inspired writer quotes from Psalms 95:7-11 as it describes the events of Numbers chapter 12 and Israel's lack of trust and faith that resulted in forty years of wandering and the death in the desert wilderness of the first generation of adults of the Sinai Covenant. The inspired writer uses this event in the history of the first generation of the Old Covenant people as a warning to the New Covenant first generation.
2. Hebrews 4:1-13: In which the psalms is quoted in reference to the promise of entering into "God's rest" a promise first experienced by man on the 7th day of Creation; a promise that looks forward to the New Covenant blessing of eternal life.
In using Psalms 95 in these two different ways the inspired writer hopes to warn his audience not to repeat the failure of the first adult generation of the Exodus experience. He does this by focusing on Israel's lack of trust and faithfulness in God in contrast with God's trustworthy faithfulness, with the hope of moving his audience to the positive response of obedience, trust, and faith.
Please turn to Psalms 95 and read the entire psalm.
Answer: He attributes Psalm 95 to God the Holy Spirit as given to King David, as David himself affirmed in 2 Samuel 23:2: The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; his word was on my tongue. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote concerning this passage: The authority of the words comes from this, that they are not products of human invention, but of the Holy Spirit. Commentary on Hebrews 171; page 45-46. [also see Mark 12:36; Acts 4:25; 28:25; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21; 1 Clement 13:1; 16:2].
The inspired writer of Hebrews understands that all Sacred Scripture is generated by God through selected men. The writer of Hebrews wants his listeners to understand that the Old Testament contains a partial revelation of what was to be intimately revealed in Christ [see Hebrews 1:1; 8:5; and 10:1], and therefore when he quotes from the Psalms or other Old Testament texts he quotes the texts in a way that illuminates those texts as a reflection of God the Son reigning in glory at His place in heaven at God's right hand.
Question: What are the main themes of Psalm 95?
Answer: Psalm 95 begins as David's hymn of praise, calling upon the assembly to sing praise to God and to bow down and worship Him. Then beginning in verse 8 the psalm switches from David's voice to Yahweh's voice and becomes God's warning to the covenant people to guard against the lack of faith of the Exodus generation. The warning contains a reference to three episodes in Israel's history:
All the episodes illustrate Israel's lack of faith and trust in the promises of God and rebellion against His plan of salvation for Israel, entering into His "rest" through the conquest of the Promised Land.
The quotation in Psalms 95: 7-11 is from the Septuagint, Psalm 94:7-11 with some variation. As in the LXX and in the Hebrews quotation, the Hebrew place names "Massah" "Meribah" and have been translated as "testing" (or trial) = Massah and "rebellion" (or "contention/quarreling") = Meribah; tying the event less closely to a particular time/place in history and making the warning relevant to all generations who test God and rebel against His plan.
The inspired writer of Hebrews interprets the failing our Israel in the first Old Testament reference in Hebrews 3:12-18. Please turn to Exodus 17 and read verses 1-17: Water from the Rock at Massah and Meribah
Question: Where did the Israelites camp?
Answer: At Rephidim, which in Hebrew means "plains." The actual physical site cannot be identified with any certainty but it must have been close to Mount Sinai because Exodus 17:6 identifies the site as located "in Horeb" where Mount Sinai is located [also see Exodus 19:2 and Numbers 33:14].
Question: What other events in the journey of Israel took place just prior to this episode at Rephidim?
Answer: This event takes place after the miracle of the crossing of the Sea of Reeds in chapter 14 and after the miracle of the feeding of the manna and the quail in chapter 16.
Question: With whom did the Israelites quarrel?
Answer: With Moses.
Answer: Moses spoke the words of God; the Israelites were quarreling with God's plan for them.
Question: What accusation did the people make against Moses and therefore indirectly, against God?
Answer: That Moses, and God, had brought them out of Egypt to purposely kill them in the desert.
Question: What sign did God provide of His faithfulness and concern for the people? What were His instructions to Moses and what was the result?
Answer: God instructed Moses to strike the rock with his staff. The result was that life-giving water flowed out of the rock.
Question: Why does Exodus 17:7 say God named this place Massah and Meribah?
Answer: Because when the people quarreled with Moses and raised the question "Is Yahweh among us or not?" they were not trusting God's promise to Moses in Exodus 3:12 and were putting God "to the test." God's promise had been "I will be with you." Their lack of faith questioned God's presence among them; therefore, they demanded a miracle as a test to see if God was faithful in His promises.
The second Old Testament reference is to Numbers chapter 14, found in the reference to the 40 year period of wandering in the desert and to God's refusal to let the first Exodus generation enter into His rest, found in Psalm 95:10-11. This episode comes after Moses' leadership was challenged by his brother Aaron and his sister Miriam in chapter 12, also referenced in Hebrews 3:5.
Please read Numbers 13:1-14:38: The Revolt Against God's Plan for the Salvation of Israel.
In chapter 13 on the border of Canaan at Kadesh-Barnea God instructed Moses to send 12 spies, one leader from each of the 12 tribes, into the land of Canaan to reconnoiter the land and to bring back a report.
Answer: The instructions were to observe the productivity of the land, to assess the strength of the inhabitants, and to bring back a sample of the fruit the land produced.
Question: How many days did the spies spend reconnoitering the land? Hint: see Numbers 13:25.
Answer: 40 days.
Question: What was the report of the returning spies? Hint: see Numbers 13:25-33.
Answer: 10 of the spies brought back a negative report, the land was rich but it was impossible to conquer the land because of the strength of the inhabitants. Only Caleb and Joshua believed the Israelites could conquer the land [Numbers 13:30; 14:5-9].
Answer: They believe the promise Yahweh made to Moses in Exodus 3:16-17 that He would give the land of Canaan to the Israelites, the Promised Land that was promised to their ancestor Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, 7 and repeated in 13:14-17; 35:12.
Question: What accusation did the rebellious people make against God? Hint: see Numbers 14:2-4
Answer: Once again they accused God of bringing them out into the desert to kill them.
Question: What was God's judgment on the first generation of Israel for refusing to trust Him in His promises? Hint: see Numbers 14:26-38.
Answer: The people had passed their own judgment upon themselves. They did not trust God to help them secure the Promised Land, God pronounced that they would not enter the land but would spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness until the last man of the first generation—with the exception of Joshua and Caleb—had died. God would raise up a new generation of covenant Israelites who would take full possession of His promises. Their continual accusation against God that he had brought them out into the desert to kill them was now a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Question: What was the people's response to God's judgment and what was the outcome? Hint: see Numbers 14:39-45.
Answer: They were remorseful but they were convinced they could escape God's judgment by taking the Promised Land on their own. They were defeated and turned back. God's judgment against the first generation was fulfilled in thirty-eight years when the entire first generation old enough to bear arms at Kadesh-Barnea was dead [Deuteronomy 2:14-15].
The third reference in Hebrews 3:8-9 and Psalms 95:8-9 is connected to the event in Exodus chapter 17 in the miraculous sign of the water from the rock which was repeated in the return to Kadesh in Numbers chapter 20:1-13. Please read that passage.
Once again the people are not trusting in God the provide for them. The people had no water so again they held a council against Moses and questioned God plan to free them from Egyptian slavery only to kill them in the desert.
Answer: This time instead of striking the rock with his staff, Moses was to "speak" to the rock to bring forth water.
Question: Did Moses obey the command? What was the result of Moses' actions?
Answer: No, Moses did not obey God's command. Moses and Aaron were instructed to order the rock to give water; instead Moses struck the rock twice. Water gushed out of the rock as it had in Exodus 17 when he struck the rock but as a result of Moses' disobedience God's judgment that he would not enter the Promised Land.
Answer: St. Paul tells us that the pre-Incarnate Christ was "the Rock" who followed the children of Israel on their journey to the Promise Land. Moses, in his understandable frustration with the people not only disobeyed and struck the Rock-who-was-Christ a second time but claimed the sign had come from himself and Aaron. It is significant that both Moses in his role as covenant mediator and Aaron as the people's High Priest were to speak to the Rock in their request for God's abundant grace to flow to the people. Jesus Christ came that we might have life and have it abundantly. He was struck down once for our sins and the grace of God flowed from His side in the waters of Baptism and the Precious Blood of the Most Holy Eucharist. From that time forward, in order for the community to receive the abundance of God's grace from Christ the Rock, the priest must speak the words of consecration for the miracle of transubstantiation to take place. The events at Kadesh served as a sign for future generations as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:11: These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come.
Answer: There are two aspect of meaning associated with the "ways" of God:
Not recognizing the "ways" of God meant that the Israelites did not comprehend either the blessings God had promised them nor the consequences of their disobedience toward Him.
In Hebrews 3:11 the inspired writer quotes Psalms 95:11, As I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter into my rest", which repeats God's declaration in Numbers 14:21-23, and again in 3:18-19, And to whom did he "swear that they should not enter into his rest," if not those who were disobedient? And we could see that they could not enter for lack of faith. This judgment against the Exodus generation is repeated 3 times in Hebrews 3:11, 18, and 4:3 just as the denouncement against their "hardened hearts" will be repeated 3 times in 3:8, 15; and 4:7. Repeating in Scripture is like underlining and is meant to draw the reader's attention to the significance of the passage.
Psalm 95:7b-9a Oh, that today you would hear his voice: Do not harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the desert. There your ancestors tested me [New American OT]
Psalm 95:11 Therefore I swore in my anger: "They shall never enter my rest."[New American OT]
Hebrews 3:8 Oh, that today you would hear his voice: "Harden not your hearts as at the rebellion in the day of testing in the desert"
Hebrews 3:11 I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter into my rest."
Hebrews 3:15 ..for it is said: "Oh, that today you would hear his voice: 'Harden not your hearts as at the rebellion.'"
Hebrews 3:18 And to whom did he "swear that they should not enter into his rest." If not those who were disobedient?
Hebrews 4:7 ..he once more set a day, "today," when long afterwards he spoke through David, as already quoted: "Oh, that today you would hear his voice" 'Harden not your hearts.'"
Hebrews 4:3 For we who believed enter into [that] rest, just as he has said: "As I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter into my rest.'"
Question: Psalm 95:11 declares that Yahweh swore (an oath) in my wrath. What is the significance of God swearing an oath? See Genesis 22:15-18; Exodus 32:13; Isaiah 45:23; Jeremiah 22:5; 44:26; 49:13; 51:14; Amos 4:2; 6:8; 8:7 Sirach 44:21
Answer: Covenant formation involves oath swearing. Since there is nothing greater than God, God swears by His own name in covenant formation. He swears to keep the promises He has made to those with whom He is in covenant. The reverse of covenant formation is a covenant lawsuit called down in judgment upon a covenant partner who breaks their covenant promises. This judgment for covenant disobedience also involves oath swearing as in the rebellion and judgment of the Exodus generation in Numbers 14.
Question: What time frame does Yahweh place on this warning in Psalm 95 as well as the inspired writer of Hebrews to his audience when he says in Hebrews 3:12-13: Take care, brothers, that none of you may have an evil and unfaithful heart, so as to forsake the living God. Encourage yourselves daily while it is still "today," so that none of you may grow hardened by the deceit of sin. What is the significance of this key word "today"? See Psalm 95:7b and Hebrews 3:7b, 13.
Answer: The time frame is "today" and the warning is relevant to all generations of covenant believers. The inspired writer of Hebrews wants his listeners to understand that the Holy Spirit continues to speak through Sacred Scripture to every generation, making Sacred Scripture "the living Word" of God. St. John Chrysostom believed the inspired writer wrote "today" because he wanted to give us continual hope while it is still "today" that we can repent and turn back to God. He wrote: "Exhort one another daily," he says. That is, even if persons have sinned, as long as it is "today," they have hope; let them not then despair so long as they live. Above all things indeed, he says, "Let there not be an evil, unbelieving heart." But even if there should be, let no one despair, but let that one recover; for as long as we are in this world, the "today: is in season. Chrysostom, On the Epistle to the Hebrews 6:8 The simple truth is we all need to rely on each other to support each other with prayer and to encourage each other in faithfulness. We need the help of fellow Christians in order to hold up under the rigors of the journey of salvation.
The warning in Hebrews 3:12-19 is that if this calamity befell the Exodus generation we should understand that unbelief can also lead to the destruction of the New Covenant generation for we are also making a journey to the Promise Land and we also need to persevere in faith and obedience least we fall aside and wander in an unfulfilling wilderness. We are urged to "encourage yourselves daily." The inspired writer of Hebrews also reminds the faithful that we have become partners of Christ if only we hold the beginning of the reality firm until the end... We are partners with Christ who leads us on our journey to the Promised Land, and like the Church of the first Exodus, our exodus out of slavery to sin requires trust and faith and obedience. If we are faithful partners with Christ on "the journey" we can also hope to be partners with Him in eternity.
Question: What is it that generates unbelief in a covenant believer?
Answer: Sin. The 9th century Christian theologian Photius, wrote to have an evil unbelieving heart means to have no faith.. Unbelief, he wrote is separation from the living God, this is what it means to be "dead in your sins."
The inspired writer of Hebrews will use the term "living God" four times in his address:
Question: What is meant by the expression "the living God"?
Answer: The expression "the living God" is first found in Scripture in Deuteronomy 5:26: For what mortal has heard, as we have, the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of fire, and survived? Initially the expression was meant to differentiate between Yahweh, the One True God and the false gods of other peoples who were lifeless created images as St. Paul told the people of Lystra, We proclaim to you good news that you should turn from these idols to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them [Acts 14:15c] . In Jeremiah 10:5 the prophet describes false gods as those, Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they, they cannot speak; they must be carried about, for they cannot walk. Fear them not, they can do no harm, neither is it in their power to do good. Yahweh, the living God, is however, neither lifeless nor impotent. He has the power to bless those who do good and to punish those who are wicked; for It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God [Hebrews 10:31]; For our God is a consuming fire [Hebrews 12:29].
But Yahweh is also the "living God" because:
Other declarations of the power of the "living God" are found in:
· St. Peter declaration of Jesus as the promised Messiah in Matthew 16:16 You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!
· Jesus affirmation in Matthew 22:31-32; [also see Mark 12:27; and Luke 20:38] that a living people deserved a living God when He said: And concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob!' He is not the God of the dead but of the living.
· And in Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin when the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas demanded of Jesus: I order you under oath before the living God whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God.
· Christians are called the children, and the temple of the living God by St. Paul in Romans 9:26; 2 Corinthians 6:16; and in 1 Timothy 3:15 urges St. Timothy, But should I be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.
In Hebrews 3:14 the inspired writer tells his audience, We have become partners of Christ if only we hold the beginning of the reality firm until the end...
Question: How do we become partners in Christ's work?
Answer: We become partners when we share in Christ's work of mercy and redemption though our acts of kindness and mercy; doing as He asked of us: to deny ourselves and our selfish interests and to pick up our crosses daily and following Him [Matthew 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; 10:21; Luke 9:23; 14:27]. This is how we become "companions of the Son of God" [Hebrews 9:1] and not companions of the world. In becoming partners with Christ we become partners in His inheritance which is eternal life and the promise of a bodily resurrection.
In this next section the inspired writer moves from using Psalm 95 as a warning to Jewish Christians to be on guard not to fall into the sins of disobedience that kept their ancestors from entering into God's "rest" [3:12-19], to using the Psalm to work as a word of promise in 4:2-13.
Please read Hebrews 4:1-13, Entering into God's Sabbath Rest:
1 Therefore, let us be on our guard while the promise of entering into his rest remains, that none of you seem to have failed. 2 For in fact we have received the good news just as they did. But the word that they heard did not profit them, for they were not united in faith with those who listened. 3 For we who believed enter into [that] rest, just as he has said: "As I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter into my rest,'" and yet his works were accomplished at the foundation of the world. 4 For he has spoken somewhere about the seventh day in this manner, "And God rested on the seventh day from all his works"; 5 and again, in the previously mentioned place, "They shall not enter into my rest.: 6 Therefore, since it remains that some will enter into it, and those who formerly received the good news did not enter because of disobedience, 7 he once more set a day, "today," when long afterwards he spoke through David, as already quoted: "Oh, that today you would hear his voice: "Harden not your hearts.'" 8 Now if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterwards of another day. 9 Therefore, a Sabbath rest still remains for the people of God. 10 And whoever enters into God's rest, rests from his own works as God did from his. 11 Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest, so that no one may fall after the same example of disobedience. 12 Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. 13 No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.
Hebrews 4:2-3: For in fact we have received the good news just as they did. But the word that they heard did not profit them, for they were not united in faith with those who listened. For we who believed enter into [that] rest, just as he has said: "As I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter into my rest.'" In Hebrews chapter one the angels were compare to the Son, in chapter three Moses was compared to Jesus and now in chapters 3-4 the inspired writer is making a comparison between the Israelites of the Exodus generation and Christians. For the Israelites of the Exodus experience the "good news" was their deliverance from slavery and the promise of their own land. For the New Covenant believer the "good news" is the Gospel of salvation of Jesus Christ and the promise of a home in God's kingdom of heaven. The promise extended to the ancestors in a temporal blessing is now extended to us in an eternal blessing. God's promises must be fulfilled and the invitation to "enter into God's rest" is for us, as it was for the Israelites of the Exodus, ours to choose or to reject.
Beginning in Hebrews 3:11 through 4:11 the inspired writer returns again and again to the theme of "God's rest"; referring to God's rest 12 times [see 3:11, 18; 4:1, 3 (x 2), 4, 5, 8, 9, 10 (x 2), 11].
Answer: The first mention of entering into God's "rest" is on the 7th day of Creation when God ceased from His work: Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation [Genesis 2:1-3]. In this passage it is repeated three times in the Hebrew text that God rested on the 7th day. On this day God blessed and sanctified the day but He did not "work" the inspired writer meant to emphasize God's "rest". God's "rest" is associated with the 7th day as the Sabbath, a day of worship [Exodus 16:23; 31:15; etc.]; in the Sinai Covenant God's "rest" is associated with liturgical worship of the assembly at the Tabernacle [Exodus 40:34-38; Leviticus 23:1-3, 32]; and the promise to Israel that they would enter into God's "rest" in the land He had promised them [Deuteronomy 3:18-20; 25:19; Joshua 1:13, 15]. The 7th day of Creation, the promise of the Promised Land, the Sabbath "rest" and worship in the Tabernacle are all foreshadows of the promise of entering into God's eternal rest. In later Old Testament passages the emphasis on God's "rest" forms our understanding of what God plans for us in the future, when we are promised "rest" in His heavenly realm. Both David, as the inspired writer of Psalm 95, and the inspired writer of Hebrews are expanding on the parallels between God's "rest" on the seventh day of Creation, the land of "rest" promised to the Exodus generation, and the future "rest" that awaits the faithful believer in Psalms 95:11 and Hebrews 3:11, using the image of God's "rest" as a metaphor that depicts the mystery of the place that will be the true "rest" for the redeemed: There must still be, therefore, a seventh-day rest reserved for God's people, since to enter the place of rest is to rest after your work, as God did after his. Let us, then, press forward to enter this place of rest, or some of you might copy this example of refusal to believe and be lost. Hebrews 4:9-11
St. John Chrysostom saw references to three "rest" in this passage in Hebrews: One was the Sabbath in which God rested from the works of Creation; the second, that of Palestine, in which, when the Jews had entered they would be at rest from their hardships and labors; the third, that which is rest indeed, the kingdom of heaven, where those who obtain it do indeed rest from their labors and troubles. Of these three then he makes mention here. Epistle to the Hebrews 6:1
Other Fathers of the Church also understood "rest" in Genesis 1:31 as a foreshadowing of the eternal rest promised by Jesus Christ:
Question: Hebrews 4:1 seems to suggest that the opportunity to enter into God's rest is not an invitation that will continue indefinitely. When will that invitation be withdrawn?
Answer: At the close of the age, in the Second Advent of Christ the opportunity to choose Christ will be lost to those who have hesitated in choosing Christ over the world.
Question: What will happen at that time which can be compared to the first generation of the Exodus experience?
Answer: Once God had pronounced their judgment, it was too late to choose to trust in God. They attempted to take possession of the land on their own and failed. The adults of the Exodus generation could not avoid the judgment of wandering in the desert and dying there.
Question: Why did God swear an oath that the unfaithful and untrusting Israelites would not "enter into my rest?"
Answer: In this case the "rest" referred to the Promised Land of Canaan where God promised the Israelites of the Exodus generation they would possess a land flowing with milk and honey in which they would be freed and at "rest" from the labors of slavery. It was a "place of rest" that God had provided for His covenant people and it foreshadowed the "place of rest" that God provides for New Covenant believers. In the Old Covenant their "rest" was temporal but in the New Covenant our "rest" is eternal. The inspired writer of Hebrews is playing off these two concepts of God's "rest" and is comparing the eternal "rest" with the perfect communion Adam and Eve enjoyed with God before the fall when He "rested" from His work of creation and our first parents entered into that "rest" and communion with God.
Answer: The third quote drives home the importance of the warning—there is only so much time to repent and turn to God—one never knows when one's life might end or the Christ might return. In Hebrews 4:7 the inspired writer warns the Jewish Christians of the New Covenant that they must be vigilant concerning their faith because the "today" of reconciliation will not last forever!
Hebrews 4:8-10: Now if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterwards of another day. Therefore, a Sabbath rest still remains for the people of God. And whoever enters into God's rest, rests from his own works as God did from his.
The Greek name Iesous can be translated either Joshua or Jesus. In the Old Testament Joshua succeeded Moses as the leader and covenant mediator for the people. It was Joshua, whose Hebrew name Jesus bore, who led the children of Israel into the Promise Land. His leadership saved his people from their enemies. In both the case of Jesus and Joshua, the Hebrew name Yeshua, or "God saves", described their mission:
However, in Hebrews 4:8 it is difficult to known to which Iesous the text refers. The text seems to suggest that Iesous made a statement concerning "another day of rest" but there is no Old Testament passage applied to Joshua that seems to fit that statement. In Joshua 21:44 and 22:4 Joshua tells the people God has given them the Promise Land to settle in peace but there is no mention of "another rest" However, the statement does not seem to fit Jesus because to apply 4:8 to Jesus suggests He did not complete God's promise of eternal "rest," which of course, He did complete.
St. Ephraim, however, believed the reference is to Joshua who was only able to offer an imperfect "rest" in the Promise Land: In fact, if Joshua, the son of Nun, who allowed them to inherit the land, had settled them and given them rest, they still would not speak at all about the "other day of rest." Indeed, Joshua made them rest, because he gave them the land as an inheritance, but they did not rest in it perfectly, as God perfectly rested from God's works, for they lived in toils and wars. If that rest was not a true rest, since Joshua himself, the giver of their rest, was urged by the wars, if this is their condition, I say, there still remains the Sabbath of God, who gives rest to those who enter there, as God rested from God's works, that is, from all the works which God made. Ephraim, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews 4
The solution may be that the text refers to both Joshua and Jesus and it is intended for us to contrast and compare the mission of the two leaders.
Question: Turning to the temporal nature of the "rest" promised the Israelites of the Exodus, what point could the inspired writer be making concerning Joshua? How can Joshua be compared to Jesus?
Answer: The Old Testament Iesous-Joshua led His people to a temporal "rest" in the Promise Land and Iesous-Jesus is leading His people to eternal "rest" in heaven, the true Promised Land. Jesus is the new Joshua, the new savior of His people. The inspired writer's point may be that the promise of God's rest was not fulfilled in taking possession of the Promised Land of Canaan, nor was it completely fulfilled in the Sabbath "rest" of liturgical worship, both of these "rests" were foreshadows of the eternal rest promised through Jesus the Messiah as our great High Priest of the new covenantal order.
Joshua of the Old Testament can be seen as a "type" or foreshadow of Christ:
In Hebrew his name means "Yah (God) saves", or "Yah is salvation" which is Yahshua in proto-Hebrew or Yeshua in the 1st century AD
In Hebrew his name means "Yah (God) saves" or "Yah is salvation", Yahshua or Yeshua in the 1st century AD
He was given his name by Moses [Numbers 13:16]
He was given His name by the angel Gabriel [Matthew 1:21]
His name reflected his mission to save the children of Israel: Sirach 46:1
His name reflected His mission to save mankind: Matthew 1:21
He stood against his kinsmen in proclaiming that God's promises were true [Numbers 14:5-9]
He stood against His kinsmen in proclaiming the New Covenant in His name.
He was God's covenant representative to the people
He is God's New Covenant mediator
He led the children of Israel into the Promised Land
He is leading the children of God into heaven
Hebrews 4:12-13: 12 Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. 13 No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.
Question: How has the inspired writer of Hebrews skillfully wielded the word of God in Psalm 95 as a double-edged sword?
Answer: He has used the Psalm as both a warning to Christians to exposing human weaknesses and to urge them not to fall into sin and to lose their inheritance in the kingdom of heaven as their ancestors lost the hope of entering the Promised Land, and as a guide and a hope in the fulfillment of God's promises to the faithful that they will inherit through Jesus the Son eternal rest in the heavenly reality of the true Promised Land. He has skillfully used the theme of "the journey to God's rest" from Israel's deliverance out of slavery in Egypt, to the journey to Canaan and the failure in faith and trust and then in this section has turned to the promise of entering into God's rest in the eternal sanctuary where the Christ serves as our High Priest. The inspired writer will continue to use this theme of "God's rest" to connect the other sections of his address. In Hebrews 10:19-25 he will use the theme of God's "rest" to develop our understanding of Christ's role as High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary as compared to the earthly Temple in Jerusalem and then in Hebrews 12:22-24 he will end his address with a vision of "God's rest" in the heavenly Jerusalem.
If we are to enter into God's "rest" we must be aware that in the past the word of God was delivered through the prophets, but is now made present in the Living Word, God the Son. Today all of the word has been made present through the Son including the understanding of Psalm 95 just quoted which is now living and active in all hearers of the word: And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe [1 Thessalonians 2:13]. It is the living and active Word that judges the hearts and minds of believers who seek "rest" in God: Jesus said, Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words has something to judge him: the word that I spoke, it will condemn him on the last day, because I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. So what I say, I say as the Father told me [John 12:48-50].
Please read Hebrews 4:14-16, Jesus Our Compassionate High Priest:
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sins. 16 So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.
These verses provide a transition to the next section while connecting the audience to the theme introduced in 2:16-3:1: Jesus the merciful and faithful high priest who passed through the heavens and is now before the throne of God, expiating the sins of the covenant people. This is the first mention of heaven as the place where Jesus administers His priestly function and where His sacrifice takes on an eternal and timeless value.
Once again with the phrase let us hold fast to our confession, the inspired writer urges his listeners to be vigilant in their faith, avoiding sin and trusting God's plan in their lives.
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sins.
The Greek word peirazein [pi-rad'-zin] can mean both "test" and "tempt", as in temptation to sin.
Question: How has Jesus our High Priest been tested?
Answer: He was tempted and tested by Satan after St. John's baptism as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels [Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13], but He was also tested throughout His public ministry by the religious authorities and by the people [see Matthew 4:7; 19:3; Mark 8:11; Luke 10:25; 22:28; John 6:6], and tested in His willingness to fulfill God's plan as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane [Matthew 26:39, 42; Mark 14:34-36; 22:42-44; Hebrews 5:7-8]. Although Jesus was tempted, He was never enticed to sin because He was free from the temptation to sin: For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him [2 Corinthians 5:21; also see CCC# 603; 2119].
Question: Hebrews 4:16 urges Christians to have no fear and to confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help. Why should the faithful believe have no fear of sin, death and judgment?
Answer: Although Jesus was without sin, He witnessed sin and experienced the temptations of sin and therefore, He is able to sympathize with our struggle to resist sin. It is His promise to us that He will intercede for us with the Father and will help us overcome the challenges we face as we journey in this world toward our Promised Land in heaven. The Catechism gives us the assurance of Christ's intervention on our behalf: All Christ's riches "are for every individual and are everybody's property." Christ did not live his life for himself but for us, from his Incarnation "for us men and for our salvation" to his death "for our sins" and Resurrection "for our justification." He is still "our advocate with the Father," who "always lives to make intercession" for us. He remains ever "in the presence of God on our behalf, bringing before him all that he lived and suffered for us" [CCC# 519 quoting 1 Corinthians 15:3; Romans 4:25; 1 John 2:1; Hebrews 7:25 and 9:24]. Jesus' promise to us in Matthew 28:20 should give us the courage we need to seek both God's mercy and grace: And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.
Catechism references for Hebrews 3:8-4:16
Resources used in this Lesson:
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2008 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.