I’ll Admit Confusion, but Not Defeat

Hebrews 4:1-13
1Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2For 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. 3For 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. 4For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7again 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.” 8For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

I’m just going to come clean here. This passage is one of many in Hebrews that cause this book to be incredibly difficult. These words seem to swirl in on themselves and make no sense whatsoever. I know the words I’m reading are in English, but it might just as well be Klingon. So, with that in mind, we shall forge ahead and try to figure this out with a modicum of understanding.

First of all, we know that this passage is closely tied with Psalm 95. That prayer was recited by the people as they trekked from their homes up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. This is a liturgical prayer which sounds familiar in our ears as well, as it is often recited by us as part of worship, or at least parts of it.

The Feast of Tabernacles, which was set in the middle of the seventh month, lasted for seven days and was rounded off by a conclusive eighth day. The first and eighth days were extraordinary Sabbaths, two high holy days of rest from work at the end of a year of work. Coming as it did at the end of the agricultural year, it was a time for rejoicing in God’s presence for all the blessings the people had received from God by feasting as his guests on the holy food that he had provided for them. Since the promise of entry remains extant, the teacher and his congregation “are entering into rest,” their rest with God, because they are believers who hear God’s Word and receive it in faith.
Kleinig, J. W. ©2017. Hebrews. (C. P. Giese, Ed.). Saint Louis, MO: CPH.

Psalm 95
1Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
4In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.
5The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.
6Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
7For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice,
8do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.”
11Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.”

The writer of Hebrews is casting out words of warning here, tied to the history of God and His people. Borrowing from the very beginning, as God created the world, we find that even He rested from His labors. That rest sets up the paradigm of a Sabbath rest – an eternal Sabbath rest. These verses in Hebrews remind us of those early Children of God who didn’t bother to trust Him, for they did not have faith in Him. The Words of Moses fell on deaf ear. While they may have heard the words spoken, they didn’t listen and their hearts were not changed. We can understand that situation as we can all think of people who may have heard the Gospel, but the certainly don’t believe it for their own lives.

The picture here is of the congregation as travelers together on a common liturgical journey, like runners in a race or pilgrims to a holy city. Unlike the congregation in the desert, which failed to enter the promised land (apart from Joshua, Caleb, and those under twenty years of age, this congregation will not miss out on its promised inheritance, but it could very easily lose some of its members who lag behind the rest and so fail to reach their common destination. The community would be diminished and damaged if any member were lost.
Kleinig, J. W. ©2017. Hebrews. (C. P. Giese, Ed.) (p. 213). Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

This passage stands as a warning to each of us to hear God’s Word with faith, and to lift up those in our midst who might be missing the message. We come along side of them in relationship and care, to share the truth of God’s Word and display it in our own lives. Our love for them may just be used by the Spirit to change their hearts.