In Hebrews 3:5-4:13, the writer cites an incident describe hundreds of years earlier in Psalm 95 by King David. The subject of this psalm itself happened hundreds of years before that, showing the incident to be one of importance to God’s people for all time. What happened was this: God had brought his people out of captivity in Egypt, promising them a land to dwell in. The people experienced God’s deliverance from slavery but they faltered in their confidence in him and increasingly became hardened against him. Their rebellion and faithlessness continued to the point where God swore to them in His anger “They shall not enter my rest” (See Numbers 14:26-30 and Deuteronomy 1:34-36) He did not send them back into Egypt (which is analogous to sin and death which the Christian lives in prior to coming to Christ – see Ephesians 2:1) But they still did not manage to enter into the ‘Rest’ intended for them.
What is the ‘Rest’ referred to?
It is not a physical rest that is exhausted by the people of God entering into the land. We know this because Hebrews 4:8 says “If Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.” Rather, what is in view is the very rest that God himself enjoys and invites his children to share in. In the creation account of Genesis, God is depicted as working for six days and resting on the seventh. The first six days have a beginning and an end, the seventh has a beginning but no end – God is still enjoying that rest! So then, is God somehow ambivalent and apathetic towards his creation? This is the God of Deism but surely not the God of the Bible. A.R. Fausset helpfully points out “God’s rest is not a rest necessitated by fatigue, nor consisting in idleness but that upholding and governing of which creation was the beginning”
So then this ‘rest’ has connotations of sharing in the effortless rulership, authority and glory with which God handles creation. It is what mankind was originally made for – not merely to fall but to rule. Jesus is depicted in Hebrews as the one who has walked the path prescribed for mankind perfectly and we are now able to do likewise as we follow in His footsteps, all the while fully aware that He has paid the price for us and thus we can walk the walk guilt-free. God himself wants us to attain this rest which He offers – what good news!
What is it that kept the children of God in the Desert from entering into that rest, the land, which was promised to them? It is the same thing that stops people entering into God’s purpose for their lives now – Unbelief.
Unbelief is a gateway sin which debars entry into God’s rest. Augustine said “While [unbelief] continues, all other sins are retained and when it departs all other sins are remitted.”
How does one fall into unbelief? There are different ways – here are a few:
For the Non-Christian
• Not hearing the message in the first place – Christian’s have a responsibility to any people they know who have not heard the Good News about Jesus. They need to ensure that those around them hear the message proclaimed (Romans 10:14)
• Mishearing the message – it is very common in the post-Christian UK at present, for people to think they understand Christ and Christianity. As soon as, for example, the guidance of Bible comes into conflict with our lives the tendency is to reject it as ‘outmoded’ or ‘impractical’ for our times. Whilst not an out and out declaration of the falsehood of God’s word, it is only a short step to it: This process is the one that the Bible describes as ‘hardening’
For the Christian
• Taking on another authority – Christians can sometimes find themselves in either internal or external rebellion. This takes place when one starts subjecting God’s revelation, which is of, highest authority, to other authorities. Paul, in Galatians 1:6-8 warns believers not to accept ‘another Gospel’ because it will be a false one. He offers the antidote to and protection against this slippage in Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”
• Listening and not hearing – It is possible as a believer to constantly shrug off God’s speaking to us and to thereby miss out on entering into His rest. Hebrews 4:2 tells us “Good News came to us (meaning now) just as to them (the children of God in the desert) but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” In the desert they believed less and less of God, in spite of how faithful and powerful He had shown Himself to be. The Christian’s life should be characterised by believing more and more of God in light of who He has shown Himself to be!
If it is unbelief that prevents someone laying hold of the inheritance which God has for them, it is surely by faith in God as he has revealed himself through his words and deeds that causes them to inherit.
Keeping this faith vital is described as a communal activity. As Hebrews 3:12 tells us “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day as long as it is called ‘today’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
• Sin is deceitful – It presents itself well but ends in misery and disappointment
• Christians are God’s provision for each other – we are delivered from the deceitfulness of sin by the fellowship of other believers. Sin cannot perform its trick of deceit so easily when your isolation is broken by being a part of the community where God dwells by His Spirit.
• Christians need to
o Encourage each other’s faith by being an example that faith is fruitful
o Be encouraged in their faith by observing the fruitful lives of other Christians
In the passage that we have been considering the writer repeatedly quotes the scripture “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts”. G. Wilson tells us “God’s word is always ‘to-day’ but it is never safe to presume that He will say it again ‘Tomorrow’!”
In 2 Corinthians 6:2, Paul writes ‘God says “In a favourable time I listened to you and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation”