Hebrews 4:1–13

Therefore, while the promise to enter His rest remains, let us fear that none of you should miss it. For we also have received the good news just as they did; but the message they heard did not benefit them, since they were not united with those who heard it in faith (for we who have believed enter the rest), in keeping with what He has said:

So I swore in My anger,
they will not enter My rest.

And yet His works have been finished since the foundation of the world, for somewhere He has spoken about the seventh day in this way:

And on the seventh day
God rested from all His works.

Again, in that passage He says, They will never enter My rest. Since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news did not enter because of disobedience, again, He specifies a certain day—today—speaking through David after such a long time, as previously stated:

Today, if you hear His voice,
do not harden your hearts.

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people. For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His. Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience.
For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart. No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account. – Hebrews 4:1-13 (HCSB)

Last time we read as our author explained that those who hear God’s voice, but do not obey it, neglect a great salvation. And just like unfaithful and disobedient Israel fell in the desert, so also will those who harden their hearts against God’s word.

Today that warning turns the corner and becomes hope. Just as every covenant promise of blessing bears the warning of cursing, so also every covenant warning of cursing bears the covenant promise of blessing.

Our author opens this section by making a bold statement. The promised rest of Canaan was not achieved by Abraham, or the children of Israel. Even those who entered the land did not enter the rest. Again associating the Old Testament people of Israel with the New Testament Church, he claims that the same good news they heard was the good news proclaimed to us by and in God’s Son. However, contrary to the readers of this letter, they did not unite themselves with the faithful.[1] Those faithful are defined here by the author as “we who have believed and entered the rest.”

God’s rest is not a promised land or dwelling place, rather it is God himself. Noting that God himself rested on the seventh day,[2] his works have been finished since the foundation of the world.

Our author continues to call his readers to enter that rest, stating that some have not entered it. Urging his readers not to wait until tomorrow, but highlighting that today is the day of salvation. He is confronting the readers with the reality of God’s command of repentance, and telling them that they have a choice. Hear God’s voice and enter his rest, or harden their hearts and die in the wilderness.

Finally, he closes the section by discussing God’s word. Now, there is some discussion and debate as to what the phrase “word of God” means here. Most protestants default to understanding this as a reference to Holy Scripture. However, that seems unlikely to me. There are two primary reasons.

  1. Grammar: The verbs and adjectives here are consistently masculine and active. While it is true that sometimes non-personal concepts take masculine verbs and adjectives if they are grammatically masculine (as word of God is), it is unusual for participles to do this. Were the author referring to the Scripture here, we would expect “penetrating” to be a neuter participle, not a masculine one. The same is true of “able to judge.” The HCSB here tips its hand when it translates the masculine adjective κριτικός as “it is able to judge” rather than “he is able to judge.”
  2. Contextually: When we proceed to verse 13 we see that the flow of thought from the preceding context continues. It is much more natural to see continuity between the entity from whom “no creature is hidden” and the word of God that is “able to judge.” Rather than see a discontinuity here between the impersonal word of God, which is able to judge, and the God to whom “all things are naked and exposed” and to whom “we must give an account,” it makes much more sense to see the word of God as the second person of the Trinity, making him the singular subject of the entire section. This also means that we can see vs 14ff as a logical consequence of vs 12-13 instead of a new thought, as well as seeing vs12-13 as connected to the preceding verses, rather than introducing a new concept. The God who rested, and is calling out to us  to enter his rest, is the same God who we are not to harden our hearts against. The God who judged those who fell in the desert because of their faithlessness is the same Word of God who is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart, and to whom we must all give an account.[3]

 

[1] This is again another statement that undermines the dispensationalist idea that Israel and the Church constitute two distinct and separate peoples of God
[2] This passage certainly does not disprove 7 day creationism. However, it should give those who want to argue that the 7 days can only ever be interpreted as 7 literal 24 hour days pause, as the author here doesn’t interpret the 7th day as a literal 24 hour period. Rather he interprets it as an eternal rest which God enjoys and which his people enter into in Christ.
[3] This interpretation has precedent in both patristic (Chrysostom), and reformation (Matthew Henry) writers.