Hebrews 3:7-19 and Hebrews 4:1-11. The Danger of apostasy and the rest of GOD. In this pericope, the author repeatedly quotes certain Scriptures in order to make clear what he intends to explain.
It revolves around the rest promised by God and the danger of disobedience to God and of apostasy (the falling off from the faith). I will therefore not discuss this pericope verse by verse but will try to explain the meaning and intent of certain expressions and phrases so that, in the end, we can summarize meaningfully.
Here we must keep two things in mind:
- The Hebrews to whom this letter was addressed, were much better acquainted with “the Scriptures” (the Old Testament at that time) than most of us today and therefore understood more clearly the meaning of the Scriptures quoted.
- The author wants to show these Hebrews (Christian Jews) how “the Scriptures” were a foreshadowing of (and flow into) the Messianic dispensation of which Jesus Christ is the Mediator. (The Hebrew word Messiah is translated into Greek as Christos [English Christ], which means “The Anointed One”. The whole of the New Testament was written in Greek.)
Examples of Apostasy/Unbelief
Heb 3:7-19 focuses on the disobedience and stubbornness of God’s people (the Israelites/Hebrews of the Old Testament) and its consequences. The author, therefore, warns with a quote from what God has said through David in Ps.95:7-11:
Heb 3:7-11 "Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation [i.e. they provoked and tempted God] in the wilderness, when your fathers tempted Me, proved Me and saw My works forty years. Therefore I was grieved with that generation and said, They always err in their heart, and they have not known My ways. So I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter into My rest."
In Heb 3:15 the author now repeats the quote from Ps.95 (vv.7-8) above. In Heb 3:16-19 he reminds his Hebrew readers of what they already know very well: Although not all of them, many of them provoked and tempted God. For forty long years, they grieved Him, so that their corpses were scattered in the wilderness.
St. Paul also refers to these tempters of God. In spite of the fact that they had followed Moses under the cloud and through the sea, had eaten of the same spiritual food, and had drunk of the same spiritual water, they still lusted after evil, were gluttons, drunkards, idolaters, fornicators and murmurers against God.
Even just the thought of possibly not entering into the Promised Land that God had promised, should have restrained them from their sins. As a result thousands, even 23,000 on one day, died in the wilderness. And, Paul warns, “these things happened to them as examples, and it is written as a warning to us on whom the ends of the world have come.” (1Cor.10:1-12).
Encouragement and Warnings against Sinning
The author now warns his readers: “Therefore…” [my holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling (Heb 3:1), in the light of this quote] “pay close attention to what I am saying to you through the power of the Holy Spirit”:
Heb 3:12-14 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ if we hold firmly onto the beginning of our confidence unto the end.
We must take note here that Christians are not “stand-alone” children of God. 1Cor.12:12-27 teaches that, even as a body consist of various limbs with various functions, so are we the body of Jesus Christ and are we in need of each other. (For this, please see especially 1Cor.12:21.)
Therefore this letter to the Hebrews encourages the believers to lovingly and caringly exhort each other daily and to take special care against “an evil heart of unbelief” so that sinning in whatever form will not harden their hearts. Because it is so easy to become like those people of old and to do what they had done, we must hold firmly onto the faith that we started out with.
The Rest of God
In this pericope, the author arrives at yet another parallel. This concerns the phrase “enter into My rest”. How must we understand it?
The Greek word here (katapausis) is explained as “reposing down, that is, (by Hebraism) abode: - rest.” (Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries G2663). So let us inquire into this “abode: – rest” into which God swore that He wouldn’t let them enter. This applies to both the rest in the Promised Land towards which Moses was leading them and, prophetically, the heavenly rest towards which Jesus leads us.
The Hebrews (Israelites) had been life-long slaves in Egypt. Moses had fled to Midian (Ex.2:15). Here, while herding a flock, God met Moses and said: “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry … I am aware of their suffering … I am coming down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, to bring them up out of that land, to a good land, a large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey…” (Exo 3:7-8)
And this is what God did. Through Moses, He led them out of Egypt, cared for them in their wanderings through the wilderness and led them into the Promised Land through Joshua, whose name means “salvation”.
Now we have already seen how Moses was a foreshadow of the Messiah to come, namely Jesus, the Greek name for the Hebrew name Yehoshua, which means “salvation”.
The Promise of God’s Rest Still Stands
In Heb 4:1-2 the author draws yet another parallel: the promise of entering God’s rest is still valid. “Therefore, a promise being left to enter into His rest, let us fear lest any of you should seem to come short of it”.
He also points out what the believers in Jesus Christ may look forward to, as compared to the unbelievers. “We have had the gospel preached, as well as them. But the Word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.” (Heb 4:2). We, however, believe, and will, therefore, enter into God’s rest, unlike them who would not believe.
From Heb 4:3-7 the author repeatedly quotes from Ps.95 again, stressing the fact that those who are disobedient to God will not enter His rest, as opposed to those who believe and are obedient, and will therefore into that rest.
He finally arrives at Joshua who led the Hebrews into the Promised Land, which was to them the rest from slavery, hardships, and wanderings through the wilderness. To them, it was the end of living in tents (“tabernacles”) and the stress of almost always being on the move.
They could now build houses as permanent residences. I believe this change in lifestyle was in St. Paul’s mind when he wrote: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2Cor.5:1).
Indeed what Jesus Christ promised for those who would be His disciples. St. Peter also wrote about his body as a temporary tabernacle/tent which he was soon to leave (1Pet.1:13-14).
Heb 4:8-10 makes it clear that the rest into which Joshua led God’s people, was not the real and final rest which God ultimately intended. The final rest is in Jesus Christ. “So then there remains a rest to the people of God. For he who has entered into his rest, he also has ceased from his own works, as God did from His.” This eternal, heavenly rest in the very presence of God, is thus the ultimate fulfillment of the rest of God after He had created.
Heb 4:11 "Therefore let us labour to enter into that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of unbelief.”
Continue reading commentary on Hebrews 4:12-16 and Hebrews 5:1-10
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Part of the series – Letter to the Hebrews
Hebrews 3:7-19 and Hebrews 4:1-11 commentary by Gideon Aggenbag
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