The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Hebrews 4

Heb 4:1

Vv 1-13: The remaining promise of "rest".

LET US BE CAREFUL: Not strong enough. KJV has "Therefore let us FEAR" (Gr "phobethomen").

NONE OF YOU: A parallel and contrast: As Paul and the apostles = Moses, so the unbelieving Jewish Christians = those faithless Jews in the wilderness.

HIS REST: That is, GOD's "rest", the house of rest for the glory of God's ark (1Ch 28:2; 2Ch 6:41) -- the house built in Zion (Psa 132:8-14), and later the Millennial Temple (Isa 66:1: "house" = "rest"; Eze 43:8).

"His (ie, God's) rest" is in view here, not Joshua's "rest" (v 8; Josh 1:13). This is the same as the "rest" which Christ promises (Mat 11:28,29), the glorious "rest" (Isa 11:10), and peace for all nations (Psa 46:9; Zec 9:10; Psa 72:7; Luk 2:14). Not a cessation of labor, but a time of "refreshing" (Exo 23:12; Act 3:19).

Heb 4:2

FOR WE ALSO HAVE HAD THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO US, JUST AS THEY DID: The "gospel", in both OT and NT, was the "good news" of God's redemptive love demonstrated in His saving acts; His covenant promises, to Abraham and his seed, regarding the eternal "rest" of God's people in God's land (Gen 12:1-3; 13:15-18; Gal 3:8,16,27-29; etc). These blessings were particularly the possession of Israel, if they remaining faithful (Deu 29; 30:11-16).

BUT THE MESSAGE THEY HEARD WAS OF NO VALUE TO THEM, BECAUSE THOSE WHO HEARD DID NOT COMBINE IT WITH FAITH: Cp Heb 3:19. The implication for the readers is clear: hearing must be accompanied by believing.

Heb 4:3

NOW WE WHO HAVE BELIEVED ENTER THAT REST, JUST AS GOD HAS SAID, "SO I DECLARED ON OATH IN MY ANGER, 'THEY SHALL NEVER ENTER MY REST' ": The explanation is given in the following verses and rests on two important premises: (1) God's rest is a reality (vv 3b-4), and (2) the Israelites were prohibited from entering that rest (the quotations in vv 3 and 5). It follows that the rest was not entered into and therefore remains for the people of the era of fulfillment (v 6). What the Israelites failed to receive becomes available to those who believe in the good news of Jesus Christ (cp vv 2,3). Thus the negative argument of the quotation serves ultimately as a support for the argument concerning the continuing availability of rest.

God declared on oath that the Israelites would never enter His rest even though that rest was already a reality. The implication is that He had others in mind who would indeed enter that rest.

AND YET HIS WORK HAS BEEN FINISHED SINCE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD: God finished His work of creation on the 6th day and rested on the 7th, or Sabbath, day. But the "rest" of creation in v 4 is not the "rest" of Psa 95:5 (v 5). It is only a type of that "rest". The true "rest" will never be achieved until the Millennium -- just as the "new creation" is an ongoing one!

"There is a rest of God which His people are invited to share. This is evident from the record that God did 'rest' when creation was finished, and also that He said the faithless Israelites should not enter His rest, the offer of so doing having been made to them. And now the question arises: Was the occupancy of the land by those Israelites who went into the land under the leadership of Joshua a participation in the rest of God? That it was called a rest, the Scriptures declare: Joshua said: 'Remember the word which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, The Lord your God hath given you rest, and hath given you this land' (Jos 1:13). But that was not the rest God had in view. Israel's rest was a development consequent upon the formation of a nation for Himself, to be the custodians of His oracles and to be the preservers of the knowledge of His purpose amidst the nations of the world. It was however typical of The Rest. And the faithlessness that excluded from the typical will also exclude from the true rest" (CHeb 59).

Heb 4:4

FOR SOMEWHERE HE HAS SPOKEN ABOUT THE SEVENTH DAY IN THESE WORDS: "AND ON THE SEVENTH DAY GOD RESTED FROM ALL HIS WORK": The quotation closely follows Gen 2:2 according to the LXX and is used here to substantiate the argument of the preceding verse. The "seventh day" thus became in itself an expression for rest. This is more evident from the underlying Hebrew word for "seven," from which we get the word "sabbath" (cp v 9).

Heb 4:5

AND AGAIN IN THE PASSAGE ABOVE HE SAYS, "THEY SHALL NEVER ENTER MY REST": Again a line from Psa 95:11 is quoted to reiterate the failure of the Israelites to enter God's rest (cp v 3).

Heb 4:6

IT STILL REMAINS THAT SOME WILL ENTER THAT REST, AND THOSE WHO FORMERLY HAD THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM DID NOT GO IN, BECAUSE OF THEIR DISOBEDIENCE: The failure of some (the Jews in the days of Moses and Joshua) to enter God's "rest" merely opens the way for others (both Jews AND Gentiles of later ages) to enter in themselves.

This is the gist of Christ's parable of the wedding banquet (Mat 22:2-14): it is because the first invitees fail to respond that others are invited.

Heb 4:7

THEREFORE GOD AGAIN SET A CERTAIN DAY, CALLING IT TODAY, WHEN A LONG TIME LATER HE SPOKE THROUGH DAVID, AS WAS SAID BEFORE: "TODAY, IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS": From the opening word of the original quotation (in Heb 3:7) from Psa 95 -- the word "today" -- the author deduces that God (lit, "he") has once again defined or marked out a day for His rest to be entered into. It is noteworthy that in the time of David, a long time later, the same invitation to hear and obey could be given with the preface "Today". This suggests not only that the rest remains to be entered, but that the invitation extends to, and finds its true meaning in, the present. For every day is a new "today," and the word "today" applies preeminently to those who are "partners with Christ" (cp Heb 3:13,14). The quotation is the fourth and last time that material from the original quotation (Heb 3:7–11) is represented in smaller, formal quotations (cp Heb 3:15; 4:3,5).

Heb 4:8

FOR IF JOSHUA HAD GIVEN THEM REST, GOD WOULD NOT HAVE SPOKEN LATER ABOUT ANOTHER DAY: Joshua did not give the people "rest". For if that had occurred, the offer would not have been repeated later through David and there would have been no mention of another day.

Since in Greek the names Joshua and Jesus are identical (and the KJV even translates "Jesus" here!), the readers could not have avoided the implicit contrast between the OT "Joshua" who failed to give rest (or at least, gave them only a temporary, conditional sort of rest) and the NT "Joshua" who brings the true, promised rest to his people. Although it is not mentioned, it must be assumed that David's generation did not enter the promised rest -- or at least that if they in some sense did, it was not in the definitive sense in which the OT rest is available to those who enjoy the fulfillment brought by Christ.

Heb 4:9

THERE REMAINS, THEN, A SABBATH-REST FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD: This word is different from the word used before; it is "sabbaton" -- which occurs only here in all the NT: the "rest" of the Sabbath-day (alluding back to vv 3b,4).

The 7th figurative "day" of 1,000 years (cp 2Pe 3:8; Rev 20:4). Cp v 3.

Heb 4:10

FOR ANYONE WHO ENTERS GOD'S REST ALSO RESTS FROM HIS OWN WORK, JUST AS GOD DID FROM HIS: By a skillful combination of language drawn from two of the OT passages that have already been quoted (Psa 95:11 in Heb 3:11,18; 4:3,5; and Gen 2:2 in Heb 4:4), the author indicates that the promised rest and God's rest are of the same kind.

There is also a present aspect of this divine "rest": man's cessation from efforts to save himself (ie, by his good works), and instead his total reliance upon the grace of God is a present, immediate benefit (cp Mat 11:28,29; Acts 15:10; ROM 2:17-29; 3:21,22).

Heb 4:11

In these three short verses there is a wealth of allusion to the fall of Eden:

(1) "Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest" (v 11) -- The "rest" is a sabbath-rest (as in v 9). Six days were for labor, and the seventh for rest, since on the seventh day God rested from His labors.

(2) Adam and Eve were not able to enter the true "rest" of God because of their "fall" -- cp v 11 again; "lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief" --

(3) "For the word of God is quick, and powerful" (v 12). Adam and Eve violated God's word, and God was quick with their punishment.

(4) "Sharper than any two-edged sword" (v 12); "And He (God) placed at the east of the garden of Eden... a flaming sword which turned every way" (Gen 3:24). The cherubim with the fiery sword kept the way of the tree of life -- that is, it preserved it. To this place, before the flood, worshipers brought sacrifice, and the flaming sword consumed those sacrifices which were acceptable. This further detail, which is only to be inferred from the Scripture record (see Elp 152-154), enhances the sacrificial allusion in the rest of Heb 4:12; the dividing asunder of joints and marrow.

(5) The word of God is also "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (v 12): Adam and Eve tried to hide themselves from God after their sin, but to no avail (Gen 3:8-10), because...

(6) "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him" (Heb 4:13; Gen 3:11). We are all like our first parents, Paul seems to be saying -- weak, prone to sin, and so foolish in thinking that we can somehow hide our "nakedness" from the One who sees everything. We have, however, a merciful high priest -- who was tempted like us, yet without sin. If we take the "covering" for sin he has provided us (the antitype of the skins in Gen 3:21), then we need not fear, as did Adam and Eve (v 10). Instead, we may come with confidence (not in ourselves, but in Christ) before the throne of grace (Heb 4:15).

LET US, THEREFORE, MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO ENTER THAT REST, SO THAT NO ONE WILL FALL BY FOLLOWING THEIR EXAMPLE OF DISOBEDIENCE: And the way to enter the future "rest" of God is to avail oneself exclusively of the present "rest" that God provides to believers, in the person of His Son.

MAKE EVERY EFFORT (KJV: LABOUR)...: This translates "spoudazo" ("be diligent" or "zealous"), a common word of exhortation of the NT.

"Work, labor, zeal, enthusiasm, effort, striving -- we must get the vital urgency of it, for it is the difference between eternal life and eternal death. We are not here to play, or drift, or while away priceless, irretrievable time, or please ourselves, or pursue ambition, or hoard rotting rubbish. We are here simply and solely to serve God, and build up our spiritual understanding, and totally transform our natural, evil, ignorant fleshly character by the light and power of the Divine Word. We do not have a moment to waste. Every wasted moment is a sin to be repented of, and atoned for by frank confession and earnest prayer and sincere effort to overcome -- or it is a permanent stain that will sink us at last in eternal death" (GVG).

Heb 4:12

THE WORD OF GOD IS LIVING AND ACTIVE: Elsewhere, and plainly, Jesus Christ IS the "Word of God" (John 1:1; 1Jo 1:1; Rev 19:13. He is "living", being raised from the dead to die no more, and is thus ever-present and all-powerful, either to reward or the judge!

SHARPER THAN ANY DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD, IT PENETRATES EVEN TO DIVIDING SOUL AND SPIRIT, JOINTS AND MARROW: The priest's knife separates bone from bone very finely and accurately, revealing the "marrow", the inner recesses of the sacrificed animal. We are such "sacrifices" (Rom 12,1,2), to be carefully scrutinized, and accepted or rejected based upon such scrutiny. Cp Rev 2:12.

IT JUDGES THE THOUGHTS AND ATTITUDES OF THE HEART: The author deftly moves from the physical sacrifice and examination, to the spiritual. Thus the inner recesses of the animal symbolize the thoughts and attitudes of the human heart!

Heb 4:13

NOTHING IN ALL CREATION IS HIDDEN FROM GOD'S SIGHT. EVERYTHING IS UNCOVERED AND LAID BARE BEFORE THE EYES OF HIM TO WHOM WE MUST GIVE ACCOUNT: The connotation of this language is that all are inescapably vulnerable not only to God's scrutiny but also to his judgment. This aspect is made explicit in the final sentence: it is God to whom we must give account (cp Rom 14:12; 1Co 4:5). Thus vv 12,13 are applied to the readers to remind them of the seriousness of their choice.

LAID BARE: Gr "trachelizo" = to seize by the throat, so as to expose it to the knife -- as a sacrifice at the altar.

"They are putting a new roof on our home. It was necessary to first remove the old one and when it was removed it laid bare the attic and all that is stored there. It is amazing how much a thin coat of shingles hides from view and as we looked through the slats into the attic we thought about how bare we must all appear to our heavenly Father. We all have a coat of shingles to cover what we are really like so that those who see us do not see the real us. With the new shingles all nailed firmly in place the house looks good again but we keep remembering how it looked while it was laid bare. God sees us as we really are and we need to always remember this fact.

"Sometimes we may not even see ourselves as we really are, but we should. Paul tells us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. He asks the question, 'Know ye not your own selves?' Do we? Have we tried to nail a layer of shingles between us and our own faults so that we won't even see what we know is really there?

"Edgar Guest wrote a lovely poem entitled 'Myself' in which he says,
'I have to live with myself, and so,
I want to be fit for myself to know;
I want to be able as days go by
Always to look myself straight in the eye;
I don't want to stand with the setting sun
And hate myself for the things I've done.'

"It is a fact that many people literally do hate themselves for the things they have done. These people are to be pitied for they do not understand the joy of forgiveness as it is in Jesus. Many of the ills of the world are caused by their inner feelings of guilt which they have successfully hidden from the public by a thin coat of shingles. Behind this veneer there is rottenness, for the heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: Jeremiah asks, 'who can know it?' [Jer 17:9] The answer of course is, God knows. As David pointed out, God knows our downsitting and our uprising. He understands our thoughts afar off.

"We can never hide from God as Jonah learned the hard way. Edgar Guest continues his poem, saying:
'I never can hide myself from me,
I see what others may never see,
I know what others may never know,
I never can fool myself – and so,
Whatever happens, I want to be
Self-respecting and conscience free.'

"Without Christ we can never accomplish this but when we surrender our life to God, then we can do 'all things through Christ who strengthens us' [Phi 4:13] and one of the most important things we can do is to be cleansed from all our sins. For as John consoles us, 'If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.' [1Jo 1:9] It is only through Christ that we can 'have the answer of a good conscience toward God.' [1Pe 3:21] Paul talks about those who have 'their conscience seared with a hot iron' [1Ti 4:2] and this no more solves the rottenness inside than our new roof cleans up the mess that is in our attic. It is still there.

"Through Christ we can have our sins forgiven and 'though our sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.' [Isa 1:18]

"Let us take heart knowing that the Lord exercises lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth and that if we seek forgiveness then God will have mercy upon us and will blot out our transgressions, He will wash us throughly from our iniquities and cleanse us from our sins" (MM).

Heb 4:14

Heb 4:14 -- 7:28: Jesus is of a better priesthood than Aaron.

Heb 4:14 -- 5:10: The high priesthood of Jesus. In vv 14-16 the author again exhorts his readers to faithfulness, but this time on the basis of his argument concerning the high priesthood of Jesus. The connection has already been made between Jesus' high priesthood and his ability to help his people (see Heb 2:17,18), but now it is elaborated and leads the author into the beginning of a discourse on why Jesus is qualified to be high priest. First the author reviews the role and calling of high priests (Heb 5:1–4), and then he turns to the qualifications of Jesus as high priest (Heb 5:5–10).

THEREFORE, SINCE WE HAVE A GREAT HIGH PRIEST WHO HAS GONE THROUGH THE HEAVENS, JESUS THE SON OF GOD, LET US HOLD FIRMLY TO THE FAITH WE PROFESS: The fact that Jesus is a great high priest will enable the readers to remain true; the exhortation implies their tendency to waver. "Great" here suggests the uniqueness of this particular possessor of that exalted office. This indeed is no ordinary high priest. He is the man Jesus, but also the unique Son of God, the one who has entered in the spiritual or "heavenly temple" where his priestly work is accomplished (cp Heb 6:20; 9:11,12). At the same time, there may also be a deliberate allusion to Psa 110:1, a strategic verse for our author that is also associated with Christ's priestly work (see Heb 8:1,2). Similar language is found in Heb 7:26, where Jesus the high priest is said to be "exalted above the heavens," with which may be compared Paul's reference to Christ as the "one who ascended higher than all the heavens" (Eph 4:10). Thus a number of themes concerning Jesus previously introduced are now brought together again and associated with the title of high priest: his humanity, his unique sonship, his exaltation, and as we are about to hear, his consequent ability to help Christians under testing.

A GREAT HIGH PRIEST: Greater than the angels (Heb 1:5), than Moses (Heb 3:3), than Joshua (Heb 4:8), than other high priests (Heb 5:10).

Hold firmly: Heb 3:6; 4:14; 10:23; 1Th 5:21; Rev 2:25; 3:11; 1Co 15:2.

Heb 4:15

FOR WE DO NOT HAVE A HIGH PRIEST WHO IS UNABLE TO SYMPATHIZE WITH OUR WEAKNESSES, BUT WE HAVE ONE WHO HAS BEEN TEMPTED IN EVERY WAY, JUST AS WE ARE -- YET WAS WITHOUT SIN: The author makes the same point negatively and positively. Our high priest is not impassive, unable to share our feelings of weakness and vulnerability. He too is a human and thus one who has experienced the full range (rather than every specific manifestation) of human temptation, although to a much higher degree of intensity since, unlike all others, he never yielded to sin. The NT consistently sees Jesus as sinless (eg, 2Co 5:21; 1Pe 2:22; 1Jo 3:5). Whereas Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses, he is no longer, like other high priests, himself subject to sin. Jesus became "like his brothers in every way," yet was without sin. It is for this reason that he can help us. "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted" (Heb 2:17,18).

Heb 4:16

LET US THEN APPROACH THE THRONE OF GRACE WITH CONFIDENCE, SO THAT WE MAY RECEIVE MERCY AND FIND GRACE TO HELP US IN OUR TIME OF NEED: Using imagery drawn from the temple ritual (cp Heb 7:25; 10:1,22; 11:6; 12:18,22), the author encourages confidence (cp Heb 10:19) in approaching the mercy–seat in the holy of holies (cp Heb 9:5; Rom 3:25). It is assumed rather than stated that the high priest who is able to help is there at the throne (cp v 14 and Heb 1:3; also see Heb 7:25; Rom 8:34; 1Jo 2:1,2).

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