Understanding the Text

Hebrews 3:1–4:13

“Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself” (Heb. 3:3).

Heeding the Word of Jesus is our key to rest.

Jesus is superior to Moses the Law-giver (3:1–6). The generation Moses led failed to respond to God’s voice, and as a result was unable to enter God’s rest (vv. 7–19). The promise of entering God’s rest still stands, as it did in the time of Moses, Joshua, and David (4:1–8). We enter that rest through a faith expressed in obedience to God’s living and active Word (vv. 9–13).

Understanding the Text
“Just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house” Heb. 3:1–6. Angels might be superior to men. But one human being dominated the history of Israel. This man, Moses, was THE spokesman of God, and while his brother Aaron served as high priest, it was Moses who in prayer faithfully represented the people to God. To the pious Jew even the angels seemed hardly superior to Moses, the Law-giver.
And so the writer of Hebrews met this challenge. The “Apostle and High Priest” of our faith, whose role corresponds to that of Moses, is Jesus Christ. And He is greater than Moses. Jesus is Builder of the house of God, of which Moses is a part. Moses was faithful as a servant, Christ is faithful as a Son. It follows that the revelation Jesus brought is superior to that brought by Moses!

When the writer said, “Fix your thoughts on Jesus,” he was calling the reader to compare Christ to Moses, not to put Moses down, but to see how much greater Jesus is than this greatest of men. For us, “fix your thoughts” has another implication. If Moses was held in such high regard that the average Israelite was zealous to keep his commands, how much more dedicated should Christians be to doing all that Jesus commands?

“Today, if you hear His voice” Heb. 3:7–11. This quote from Psalm 95:7–11 sets the theme for this second “warning” passage in Hebrews. The central thought is that when the Word of God was communicated by Moses to the Exodus generation, what they heard was the very voice of God, addressing them in their today.

That generation hardened its hearts against God’s Word. They would not trust God, and refused to obey Him. As a result the generation that Moses led from Egypt wandered for decades in the wilderness, never able to enter the Promised Land.
Unbelief and disobedience have tragic consequences. Whenever we hear God’s voice, it is essential that we trust Him, and obey.

“As long as it is called Today” Heb. 3:12–15. What is “Today”? It is now, this moment, and every moment of our future, as long as you and I live on this earth.
The wonderful message of Hebrews 3 and 4 is that God still has a today voice! He is ever here, ever speaking to us, ever inviting us to respond to His direction and guidance.

One of the most important purposes of the church is to provide a fellowship in which we encourage one another to respond to God’s voice when He speaks. As long as you live it will be today for you. In each of your todays you need to be listening for God’s word of guidance, direction, or command. Active participation in a local church, and building relationships with others who love the Lord, can help keep you sensitive to His voice, and ready to respond.

“Because of their unbelief” Heb. 3:16–19. Another key word in these chapters is “rest.” The specific “rest” in view shifts as the argument develops. At first there is rest for the wandering Israelites awaiting in Canaan (v. 19). Later there is total victory over enemies in Canaan (4:8). But these are only illustrations, to help us sense what the rest promised believers today is like. Everyone who has heard and responded to the message of Jesus is invited to experience a rest of complete inner peace. Only one thing holds us back. The same thing that condemned the Exodus generation to years of unfulfilled wandering. And that is a failure to trust God completely; a failure exhibited in our refusal to respond to His voice.

You can be saved and miserable. You can a Christian and anxious. You can be converted, and totally unfulfilled. And you most surely will be if you harden your heart, and fail to respond when you hear God’s voice in your today.

“The promise of entering His rest still stands” Heb. 4:1–2. What a tremendous message of hope this is. Perhaps you’ve been a disobedient Christian. Perhaps you can look back on wasted years and lost opportunities. Perhaps you grieve over relationships so tangled and distorted that they are beyond healing. Yet whatever happened to you yesterday, “the promise of entering His rest still stands.”
You still have today. And God says, “Today, if you hear His voice.” God does not say, “Yesterday, if you had heard it.” Every today gives us a fresh start, another opportunity. If you hear His voice today, and respond in faith and obedience, you can still experience His rest! You can still know peace, and a tomorrow that will be filled with joy.

“His work has been finished since the Creation of the world” Heb. 4:3–4. The Jewish rabbis noted that in the Genesis Creation account the description of each creative day concludes with, “there was evening, and there was morning.” But no such closing phrase is found in the description of the seventh day. The rabbis wisely concluded that the seventh day had no end: God is active, but He is at rest.

What’s the significance of this comment? Simply that in the six days of Creation God set in motion a universe whose ages He had already determined. God rested on the seventh day, as there is no contingency for which He has not planned. There is no problem for which He has not already worked out the solution. There is no need He has not already arranged to meet.

Have you ever noticed that what drains us is the stress of work, and not work itself? It is the uncertainty, the doubts, the unexpected setbacks, the awareness that no matter how hard we try, so many things are beyond our control. The Sabbath reminds us that there is no such stress for God. He is active, at work in us and in our world, but in His work He is at rest, sustained by perfect peace and certainty.

What a God we have! And what an invitation—that we should enter “His rest.”

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” Heb. 4:5–11. The writer mentioned Joshua and David to show that God’s ancient promise of “rest” was not totally fulfilled when Israel at last possessed the Holy Land. Entrance into Canaan, victory over the Canaanites, and even David’s successful campaigns to expand Israel’s kingdom, were merely metaphores—symbolic of a reality far more significant than even these key historic events.

The fact that each of these periods in sacred history is identified as a “Today” also serves to remind us that “Today” is here and now for you and me. When we hear God’s voice, we can respond, and in responding find the Sabbath rest that God Himself enjoys!

But why does the writer tell us to “make every effort to enter that rest”? What is that rest, and how do we experience it?

It is God’s own rest. It is the realm in which the future is assured, for every contingency has been planned for. We enter that rest by responding to God’s voice with faith and obedience. He who knows the future can and will guide us safely through our today. The voice of Him who has solved every problem will lead us to His solutions. The voice of the One who knows every need will guide us to the place where our needs will be met. Our struggle is not to find our way into tomorrow, but to submit to His will, so that He can guide us to where we must be.

The result of total submission to God and obedience to His Word is rest. We suddenly, inexplicably, find ourselves at peace. Dangers abound. Difficult decisions must be made. Circumstances remain beyond our control. But by submitting to Jesus we have rested from our own works, to rely completely on Him.

And so we find the Sabbath rest that is promised to us by our God.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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