“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” - Hebrews 4:1
In my first blog post I talked about an in-depth study I did last semester on the book of Hebrews. Today, I’d like to dive into a portion of that study: Entering into God’s rest, which is found in Hebrews 3-4.
One thing we need to understand about the book of Hebrews is that it was written specifically to Jewish Christians. This is important to know because the writer of Hebrews assumes his audience has a solid understanding of the Old Testament. He won’t stop to explain much, so it's up to us as the reader to look back into the Old Testament and make the connections. At the time when Hebrews was written, the Christians were being persecuted, not by Rome, not by Gentiles, but rather by the Jews themselves. The Jews saw the Christians as followers of false religion rather than the followers of the ultimate fulfillment of Judaism: the Messiah (Which is the Hebrew word for Christ, meaning “Anointed One”) This persecution was not a physical persecution, but a social one. The Jews had shunned the Christians from out of their families, friendships, and even the marketplaces. Jewish Christians could no longer sell goods because the unbelieving Jews had boycotted their businesses. This left only Non-Jews and Christians to buy and sell with, which was not a large enough percentage of the population for their businesses to survive. This meant a lot of Christians were struggling to just get by.
That’s the situation the book of Hebrews was written in. The author of Hebrews is writing to these struggling Christians, who have lost their families, friends, and fortunes in following Christ. It would have been so easy for the Jewish believers to recant Christ and go back to their old comfortable lives, but that’s not what God wanted from them. Instead, the book of Hebrews gives them a greater calling: to exhibit faith and enter into the rest of God.
Main Passage: Hebrews 3-4
The Book starts out by reintroducing Christ to the Jewish believers as an Apostle, High Priest, Savior, the Son of Man, King, a greater Moses, and a whole bunch more things. (Good topics for another day) The author reminds the believer that Jesus was and is faithful. Just as Moses was faithful over his whole house. Jesus is the faithful Son who cares for His Father’s house: the believer. (On a side note, the house of God is not the church building AKA the building the believers use to assemble in. I’m wary of ever saying that a building is the house or temple of God since Act 7:48 says “the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” But I digress from the topic at hand.) The point is Christ is faithful to us and that is the main argument for why you should enter into His rest.
“Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith"- So here the author of Hebrews is going to quote what the Holy Spirit says in Psalm 95: 7b-11 so let’s just hop right on over there and read the original text:
“Today if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)”
Now let's dig into what Psalm 95 is saying. This passage is referring to something called “the provocation.” The Hebrew word for provocation simply means “an argument,” it's often translated “strife” elsewhere. It goes on further to reference this provocation as the “day of temptation in the wilderness” this tells us that the event happened sometime during Israel’s time in the wilderness. It also says that the people at this event saw God’s “works” for forty years. This gives us our answer. This is the story of the events that occurred at Kadesh-Barnea the first time the Israelites were to enter the Promised Land. Which happens to be Numbers 13-14.
Numbers 13:26-28, 33b
“And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and shewed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there ... which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight."
Oh, it’s this story! The twelves spies- You know, “Ten men went to spy on Canaan, ten were bad and two were good?” yeah that one.
“Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.”
Yep, there’s our argument: Should we trust God by going into the land or not?
“And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me?”
And there’s our provocation. So we know for sure this is the story Psalms 95 and Hebrews 3-4 is talking about.
(For the sake of time, we can’t cover everything that happened in this story. so, I encourage you to read the full passages for yourself. The passages used in this post are at the bottom of the page)
So Psalm 95 reminds us that the Israelites could not enter into God’s rest because they hardened their hearts and refused to believe God would do as He said. The thought continues in Hebrews 3:12
“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.”
The author is telling the Christians to be careful. He says, “Listen, guys. Watch out. Make sure you don’t have a heart of unbelief. Take time to encourage one another today, so that no one becomes deceived through the trickery of sin.” Disbelief may not even seem like a sin at first but it is because disbelief is a rejection of God. When we do not believe God we call Him a liar and reject Him as the Truth. The following verse shows the results of this action.
“For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;”
The Greek word here for “partakers” means to be a “sharer or partner.” it is also the root word of “fellowship” in Greek. So we can see that to truly have this relationship: a fellowship or partnership with Christ, we need to hold onto our faith in God. When we fall out of this faith in God, our fellowship with Him is broken, and we are prevented from entering into His rest. Hebrews 3:19 confirms this when it says
“So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.”
The Israelites were not able to enter into the Promised Land because they did not have faith in God. We as Christians cannot enter into God’s rest if we do not have faith in God. Remember, The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. He never changes, don’t forget this fellow Christian! One of my professors in college warned me to make it clear when presenting this topic that God does not punish us for not entering into His rest. So I will do so here: God does not punish you for not entering into His rest. You punish yourself by refusing God’s gift of rest. Just as an unbeliever can reject the Gift of salvation, a believer can reject the gift of rest, and choose to live his life on his own without any reliance on God.
“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.”
We ought to fear falling out of faith and rejecting God’s rest! God promised us we can enter into his rest if we believe on Him. Would it not be a shame if to the unbelievers it would appear we are not saved because we haven’t entered God’s rest? The Gospel was preached to both those who believed and those who did not. The only difference was faith. When we remove this faith from our lives it becomes hard to tell the difference between those who are saved and those who are not. Let’s skip ahead to verse 8:
“For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.”
This verse can be confusing because we’re reading a translation of the Greek. It says Jesus but it’s not Jesus Christ. This is a different Jesus, a Jesus who has a book of the Bible with his name on it. This Jesus is Joshua, from the book of Joshua. I’ll clarify more on that later.
So back to Numbers. The Israelites refused to enter the land and wandered in the wilderness for forty years. After this forty years, Moses died and Joshua took over as the leader. And as God promised, Joshua led the Israelites into the rest of the Promised Land. So if we look at the verse again with Joshua instead of Jesus we can understand it a bit better. “For if Joshua had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.” Although Joshua gave the Israelites the rest of the Promised Land, God still spoke of a future rest. A rest found in Christ that Israel still did not have.
So then why doesn’t the verse says Joshua? Well, it does. Joshua in the Hebrew is “Yehoshu'a” which happens to be the same Hebrew name that Jesus had. So “Yehoshu'a” in Greek is “Iēsous” which in English is pronounced “Jesus.” Yes, it’s confusing and yes, Jesus in this verse is still a correct translation even if it is confusing. So with that out of the way, let’s continue.
“There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.”
This rest that Joshua didn’t have is available to the people of God. It allows us to rest from our own works. We no longer have to carry the burdens of this life. We have the privilege to hand them over to Christ to lighten our load. It may appear odd that the verse says “Let us labour.” I assure you it's not saying let us “work to rest,” in the Greek the word for “labour” is “spoudazō” meaning “to make effort, be diligent, or to study” It is saying we need to be diligently seeking this rest of God. It warns us that if we don’t we will fall into the same example of unbelief as the Israelites and lose our testimony as Christians. Okay, so we need to be diligent to enter this rest, but how do we check ourselves? The next verse tells us:
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
Scripture will show us the true intents of the heart. When you read the Bible the Bible reads you. It reveals our shortcomings, our lack of faith, and areas of our lives where we need to grow in Christ. It is powerful, picking apart our hearts revealing what is truly there, convicting our souls, and helping us realign our spirits with the Spirit of God so we can enter into his rest.
This world can throw burden after burden on us. We were never meant to carry these burdens. They weren’t a part of original creation, they were a result of man’s fall into sin. Maybe you are struggling with an emotionally trying time. Maybe you struggle with anxiety. Maybe you are just stressed from a large workload that has been placed on you. Maybe you are struggling with a sin you just can seem to shake. My friend, enter into God’s rest. “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) God wants to work everything out for those that love Him. He’s set out the gift of rest for those who are willing to receive it. If you are struggling with a burden and haven’t given it over to God, I’d encourage you to get alone with God in prayer and let Him take care of it. Ask God to forgive your unbelief in His ability to deal with your situation, ask Him to restore to you the gift of His perfect rest, and ask him to help you have faith no matter the situation you are in. If you do this and truly trust in God's rest, then you will be able to pillow your head at night knowing everything is going to work out for good in the end.
Hope you all enjoyed reading this post. If you wish to, feel free to share your experiences with finding God's rest in your life in the comment section below. Maybe your testimony can be an encouragement for someone going through a hard time. It's a good way to "exhort one another daily, while it is called Today!"
Numbers 13:1 - 14:45
Hebrews 3:4 - 4:12