Meditations in Hebrews 4: 24. The ‘Rest’ God has for us (2)
Heb 4:8,9 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God
Let’s start by recapping the conclusions we saw in this complicated passage:
- God rested at the end of His work of Creation.
- That ‘rest’ meant His goal of completing Creation was fulfilled.
- It also meant He had no more to do in respect of it – hence He ‘rested’
- When He lead Israel out of Egypt He referred to the Promised Land as their ‘rest’.
- Once they had taken that Land, they would be at ‘rest’ as far as God’s plans were concerned. However that had to involve faith – which they lacked and why the original generation failed to enter it.
- Both those two pictures – of God resting after Creation and Israel entering the Promised Land – were pictures or analogies of what God intends for each of us.
- The call and the warning may come many times through history and apply to each and every person who hears the call and, we believe, all do although many do not realise what it is.
- When we respond to His call to return to Him, His desire is for us to come to a place of rest, a place to be received by faith.
If you have found this a difficult passage to take in, don’t be to surprised for we have been ‘suffering’ rabbinical teaching which was often a complex, disciplined, logical in-depth attempt to discover all the various senses implicit in the biblical verses, which often took it beyond our simple surface understanding. Remember this Hebrew writer was writing to other Jews who would be familiar with this process. What, perhaps, we struggle with, is the logical depth that the writer goes to as he takes and almost manipulates Old Testament verses.
So, for example, having been speaking about the different ways of thinking about this ‘rest’ (God’s at Creation, Israel’s in the Promised Land, us through gospel salvation) he now goes back to the Promised Land illustration: “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” (v.8,9) To follow this logic we must see that the writer is saying that even though the next generation of Israelites DID enter the Promised Land, nevertheless the warning was coming at a later date when David wrote his psalm and we’ve already seen the writer home in on the word ‘Today’.
The original warning said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert.” (3:7,8) and that was repeated in 3:15 and then picked up in chapter 4 just before our current verse: “Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” (4:7) i.e. the same warning needed to be applied in David’s time. But if the warning comes, it must infer that there is a ‘rest’ to be taken and a ‘rest’ that could be missed, otherwise what is the point of a warning. This is where his logic now goes in verses 8 & 9 where he points out that there must be another ‘rest’ after Joshua. There STILL IS a rest to be received is the point he is making at laborious length!
He then seeks to emphasise something of the nature of that rest, which we already commented upon earlier: “for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” (v.10) Just as God rested from His activities of creating the world, so now entering His rest means we stop struggling and striving to get back to a place before the Fall. This ‘rest’ means we no longer have to try to be religious, try to be spiritual, or try to get right with God, because the truth is that Jesus has achieved all that us in his work on the Cross. To receive it is a matter of faith which excludes any boasting of personal achievement (see Rom 3:27) Jesus justified us, we couldn’t do it. We just have to be at rest and receive what he provides for us. This is why Paul also wrote, “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord”. (1 Cor 1:30,31) The whole salvation package is a gift of Christ and so when we receive it, we enter into the experience of ‘rest’, no longer trying but just receiving and enjoying. That is the wonder of the ‘rest’.
It is because he has seen the reality of this that our writer makes this warning and this appeal to his Jewish readers (and to us): “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” (v.11) Yes, there is effort required but it is to enter the rest, not once you are in it.
But how do you make an effort to receive salvation? May we use the illustration of the Israelites? In study no.22 I wrote, “They had witnessed ten incredible plagues, they had witnessed God drowning Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, they had witnessed God cleansing water in the desert, providing fresh water in the desert, providing a constant supply of food in the desert, and known God help them overcome an attack of the Amalekites in the desert. Then they had come to Mount Sinai and had a series of the most incredible experiences of God there. On their traveling to the Promised Land they had again known God’s provision, as well as His chastising. Again and again and again and again they had experienced the powerful presence of God, there for them, guarding them, guiding them and providing for them.” In other words, they had so much evidence, so much testimony about their experiences with God that really they had no excuses for their subsequent unbelief.
Now what about us, living today? In that same study, I wrote, “We have the Bible, we have the testimony of the Church over two thousand years, and we have the Holy Spirit and we have one another.” The Bible which, if you investigate and learn about its origins, CAN be trusted, is the source for 98% of what we can learn about God and there are probably copies of it in most homes. We have no excuse if we ignore it. Within it we are confronted with the incredible records of Jesus Christ, THE most substantial and profound testimonies to build faith. IF we want to find out, Church history is worth researching and will build faith. Listen to the testimonies (indeed get people to talk out their testimonies) and faith will grow. All of these things build faith to receive the salvation that is being spoken about here. There are no excuses. This is why the teaching of this Hebrew writer is so important, so significant, so challenging.
Addendum: More on this ‘rest’.
To perhaps try and get hold more fully of this idea of this ‘rest’ God wants us to have, may we identify again some of its characteristics:
- God ‘rested’ because He had completed creating the world.
- Now Jesus has also completed all that is needed for the work of salvation.
- When we become a Christian we join with Jesus (“in Christ”) and share in the completeness of his work on the Cross.
- Therefore when we receive the gift of our salvation it is exactly that, a gift, not something we earned or deserved; we can add nothing to it, only receive it and enjoy it.
- Our lives, therefore, are to be in a state of rest, free from striving to achieve, free to enjoy God’s presence, reconciled to the Father by the past work of Jesus.
- We can do nothing but enjoy it and receive the fruits of it.