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 mixes with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although their works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief. Again he limited a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Jesus (Joshua) had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a pest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as did God from his.
THE FOURFOLD “WHEREFORE” of HEBREWS 4
Even a casual reading of this chapter shows that it is one of great admonition, exhortation, threatening, and a warning finger raised. These are warnings and threatenings which come to us from the dealings of God with unbelieving Israel in the desert, which could enter into the rest of God. They could not enter because of their unbelief!
A word ought to be said about the development of the argument and exhortations here, as appears from the “wherefore” as this is found in the verses 1, 11, 14 and 16. The term in the Greek translated “wherefore” is the conjunction “oun.” According to Thayer in his Lexicon this conjunction indicates “that something follows from another necessarily.” Writes Thayer further, “Hence it is used in drawing a conclusion and in connecting sentences together logically.” In exhortations this means that the writer will show what ought now to be done by reason of what has been said. This is very emphatically the case here in this fourth Chapter of Hebrews.
Since the people in the desert could not enter into the rest of the Promised Land because of unbelief, the consideration of the tremendous implication of the righteousness and divine judgments ought to cause us to walk in holy fear, with awe and trembling before God’s majesty. Rather than walk as did Israel we should give all diligence to enter into the rest in order that we fall not in the same example of unbelief as Israel of old. But living under the preaching of the sharp and living Word of God, we should hold fast the profession, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens. And, therefore, we should draw nigh to the throne of grace and find mercy and grace in time of need!
THE REST RESERVED FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD (verses 1-10)
It might seem that since many of Israel did not enter into the rest as did God swear with an oath, that this would be a reason for us not to give diligence to enter into the rest. However, such is not the case. The truth of the matter is that the “example” of Israel’s unbelief is used as a motivation in us of holy fear. “Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us….” The promise of entering into the rest stands! It is left us, that is, the status quo of the promise of God to Abraham remains real, as realized in Jesus Christ! There ever remains a rest for the people of God. (Verse 9) No matter whether “some” cannot enter because of unbelief, others must enter in by faith. For “it remains for some to enter in” This is left to them; this is left to them as a consequence of the unrepealed promise made to Abraham and his seed, to the people of God. The Greek term for “left to them” is the verb “apoleipe tai” which is a present passive indicative: to leave behind, to remain over, as dispensation of God. Thus there was not “left over” a sacrifice for the sin of those who willfully walk in unbelief after they have known the truth (Hebrews 10:26). Paul would say: God hath not forsaken his people whom he foreknew. (Romans 11:2)
That such a rest is reserved ever for the people of God is evident, first of all from the fact that the word is preached to us now even as it was to Israel then by Moses. Certainly if the promise was not to us, the gospel could not be preached to us. But the gospel has been preached to us even as it was to them, that is, to Israel who wandered about in the desert. And it is exactly at this point that we must fear and tremble. We must give heed to the preaching of the promise. If unbelieving Israel could not enter because “their hearing was not mingled with faith,” our hearing must be such that it is with believing ears and hearts. Andsince the preaching of the gospel is either a savor of life unto life, or of death unto death (I Corinthians 2:14-16), whether in the desert in Moses’ day or anno Domini1967, we are to exercise ourselves in holy fear when we listen to and hear the gospel. Says Jesus in Mark 4:24“If any man have ears let him hear. And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear … for he that hath to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which be hath.” And, according to the gospel of Luke, Jesus said “Take heed how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given: and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.” (Luke 8:18) Yes, the promise to enter is left us. Only the entering is by faith, a faith that lays hold on the gospel of salvation in the great and merciful High Priest, Jesus.
Yes, there remaineth even a rest for the people of God. But that “rest” is the perfect rest of the completed work of God in, Jesus. The reasoning of the writer here in the book of Hebrews is not wholly clear at first reading. However, a careful study and prayerful reflection will make it clear that the writer speaks here not simply of the rest of the earthly Canaan into which Joshua brought Israel, crossing Jordan. For David, when all the land is subjugated and the temple worship is organized some four hundred years after Joshua, says “today” if ye will hear his voice. This is a later day. Israel must still enter into the rest by kneeling down before the Lord their Maker. (Psalm 95) This indicates that there is a “Sabbatismos” which is still left and into which we ever enter in by faith through the preaching.
It is true that Joshua brought Israel into the rest. Howbeit, that rest was open ended, so to speak. It was not a completed and closed rest. It was not as the rest spoken of in Genesis 2:2. That rest was not open ended; it was the rest of creation; it is closed and not open, awaiting a further fulfillment. Here God had placed a period. He wrote “finis!” For we read, do we not “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works?” A closed rest. It is a day which ideally is followed by none other. It is not limited by morning and evening. It is a picture of the eternal day. it is used in our text as an analogy of the perfect rest. But such a period was not place by God back of Joshua’s bringing of Israel into the rest of the land of Canaan. This typical rest simply prefigured the final rest of the heavenly Canaan, as realized in Christ’s death and resurrection. Hence, not entering into this rest on the part of some does not put to nought the faithfulness of God with respect to his people. For when God speaks of “my rest” in David, he is speaking of the “Sabbatismos” which there remaineth even for the people of God now in faith and presently in heaven’s glory, face to face!
THE FEAR MOTIF IN THE PREACHING IN RELATIONSHIP TO THE ENTERING INTO THE REST (verse 1 ff.)
There is ever the possibility that we hear the gospel and perish in our sins notwithstanding. Such was actually the case with more than 600,000 men in Israel which came out of Egypt. No, none of the elect perished. But many who were under the preaching did. Many are called and few are chosen. (Matthew 20:16;Matthew 22:14)
It is of this calling by the preaching that the writer to the Hebrews refers. Writes he, “for to us was the gospel preached, as well as to them.” In some this preaching is received with believing hearts; the hearing is mingled with truth faith. In others faith is lacking. They hear and hear not, see and perceive not. They do not repent and are not healed.
Now God uses the “hear motif” to keep us as good listeners, who receive the word with hungry and believing hearts, so that we “beware how we hear]” Such fear as here spoken of is not the slavish fear of being filled with morbid fear, with anguish and terror from the face of God, crying: hills fall onus and mountains cover us! Nay, this is the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom. Surely the Bible speak of both kinds of fear, which are quite different both in nature and in motive.
The carnal fear of the wicked who will not believe God, who walk in their own chosen ways, is described to us by the Lord himself in Deuteronomy 2:25. Says the Lord, “This day will I begin to put the dread of thee upon the nations that are under the whole heaven, who shall hear of thee, and shall tremble, and be in anguish because of thee.” Truly, that is not the fear toward which the writer admonishes the reader in Hebrews 4:1.
However, the fear of the Lord unto which the church is admonished is to stand in holy awe before God, to tremble in the beauty of holiness as did Israel of old when God appeared in the cloud of glory above the tabernacle. A very instructive passage, in this connection, is what we read in Psalm 5:7, “But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy tender mercies: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy mountain.” According to the Hebrew parallelism this “fear” is the expression of the “mercy” of God. Were it not for the great mercy of God none could come into God’s presence in the fear of God. This fear is the principle of the love of God. This passage is but one of the many passages which we could quote to substantiate the thesis of the uniqueness and godliness of the “fear” unto which we are admonished so that we may hear and heed the gospel which is preached to us. Should any desire to pursue this study further we suggest that he take note of the following passages: Psalm 2:11, 5:7, 19:9, 34:11, 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, 9:10, 22:4;Acts 2:43; Romans 11:20; Colossians 3:2; Philippians 2:12; I Peter 1:17, 3:2, 3:15. In all these passages we are told to work out our salvation with holy fear and trembling. It is God who worketh in us both to will and to do.Such is the fear-motif of Scripture for the godly. It is not the anguish of hell, the cold sweat of a terrified conscience. Yet, it is that awe which prevents us from a heedless attitude of indifference when God speaks. It is the fear which heeds joyfully and willingly the admonition of the Psalmist, “Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with Psalms. For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods…. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today if he will hear his voice, harden not your heart as in the provocation in the wilderness!”
In this fear we who have, receive more abundantly, and our hearing will be mingled with faith. Only thus will we hold firm our profession to the end, looking to Jesus, the greater than Moses.