Hebrews 4:1-13 The Promise Of Rest.
Here the author resumes and concludes the second section of the covenant renewal structure-the Historical Prologue. In recounting the history of the LORD’s intention to build his house by delivering a people from Egypt, and giving them rest in the promised land, our author makes the point that this promise of rest still stands. In the last passage he highlighted the second section of the lawsuit structure-The Introductory Statement Of The Case. This also served as a warning for those who have come after (v. 1). Our author does not want his audience to “come short” of this promise. It is true that Moses, like the unbelieving and rebellious generation, did not enter the promised land, but unlike them he did see it (Dt. 34:4). As such he serves as an example of the saints under the old covenant, who were saved through the same gospel as those who have come after Christ, but they looked ahead to what we look back to.
Our author could not be clearer when he stated that “the gospel was preached to us as well as to them” (v. 2a). They had the gospel preached to them! Furthermore, concerning the faith of Moses, he states that he esteemed “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (11:26). It was because of his faith in the Messiah, and the gospel of grace which instilled that faith, that Moses received a glimpse of the promised future, and the old covenant saints with him. All the rest of that generation died in the wilderness because they rejected the gospel that was preached. The fact that they refused to circumcise their infant boys, the old covenant sign of the covenant of grace, shows as just one example, their refusal to obey the word preached. The word preached did not profit that generation, because it was “not being mixed with faith in those who heard it” (v. 2b).
All who believe the word, the message of promise and hope in the gospel, will enter this rest which remains. Those, who by faith, are the subjects of this new covenant renewal will enter the rest which those who rebelled in unbelief will not enter (v. 3a). Now that the promised deliverer has come, any who reject the Messiah are left without hope. For these our author is laying out the final covenant lawsuit against apostasy (v. 3b; 3:11; Ps. 95:11). Our author also makes a very cogent point with respect to this message of the gospel. It didn’t begin to be preached to and through Moses, rather the LORD’s works have been finished “from the foundation of the world” (v. 3c). Adam had rest from the dawn of creation, a rest he lost until the LORD promised it back to him and us when he promised a Seed-the first and central gospel promise (Gen. 3:15). “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works” (v. 4; Gen. 2:2; Ex. 20:11; 31:17).
Again, in his practice of offering two or three witnesses, he also quotes again from Psalm 95:11: “They shall not enter My rest” (v. 5). It is possible, as Paul also pointed out, for some “to receive the grace of God in vain” (II Cor. 6:1). Some are shown God’s unmerited favour by hearing the gospel preached, and even participating in the outward administrations of the one covenant of grace, for whom it is nevertheless in vain, because of their unbelief and disobedience. Such was the case of those who “attempted to be justified by law” (Gal. 5:4). Later our author will state that this falling short of this grace is ultimately because of a “root of bitterness” (12:15). Given this warning about those under the covenant lawsuit, our author warns his audience that they must not likewise harden their hearts in unbelief, again repeating Psalm 95:7-8 (vv. 6-7). There was always a greater rest behind the one of entering the promised land.
“For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day” (v. 8 Cf. Josh. 22:4; Ps. 95). However, this promise behind the promise that made that entrance possible, was and remains the promise of the gospel of grace. The promised land was only a microcosm of God’s intention of extending His kingdom throughout the whole inhabited earth, of which the promise spoke (2:5). “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God” (v. 9). This rest continues to be as wide as it was from the very beginning, the forgiveness of our sins, and the extension of His kingdom. Those who have entered this gospel rest no longer look to their own works for their justification (v. 10). Again, our author recounts this history and brings into their present, as a warning (v. 11 Cf. II Pet. 1:10).
As God is living, even so His word is living. As the Lord is active, even so His word is active and powerful (v. 12a). To know our hearts we must reflect on our lives through the examination of the word. It is the word where we learn of God’s will. For those who might think that it is not exact or personal enough, our author states that it is very precise, “sharper than any two-edged sword,” meaning that it always cuts to the point (Cf. Is. 49:2). There is never a dull edge to the word, “piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow” (v. 12b). Whatever else these words may mean, it is clear that the word is precise in distinguishing the important issues and application, and to the point of each individual. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (v. 13 Cf. Jn. 12:48). This is the concluding point to his Historical Prologue-everyone must give an account.