Hebrews 3 and 4 are two of the most difficult chapters of the Bible to understand. However, it you spend a little time with them you can see that they are also two of the most profound and beautiful as well.
Remember that this was first probably given as a speech most likely to a group of very recent converts (possibly mixed with potential converts) who were trying to understand while the Temple sacrifices were no longer effective.
For the purposes of this exercise a line by line review is warranted.
[Jesus is compared to Moses and it is made clear that Jesus is superior to Moses.]
1 Therefore, holy brethren, who share in a heavenly call, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession. 2 He was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in * God’s house. 3 Yet Jesus has been counted worthy of as much more glory than Moses as the builder of a house has more honor than the house. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ was faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if we hold fast our confidence and pride in our hope.
[The author refers back to the Psalms and Exodus. Under Moses the chosen people strayed from God.]
7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, when you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their hearts; they have not known my ways.’
[REST is the theme that runs through these 2 chapters. Because they strayed they were not allowed to enter God’s rest. In this case rest is a PLACE, the promised land.]
11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”
[The new converts are exhorted not to make the same mistake. They must support each other in remaining faithful – DAILY]
12 Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 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.
[Whereas before they were united by nationhood, now they are united by Jesus].
14 For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end, 15 while it is said, “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
[It was the very people that were chosen, freed from slavery by God, and who witnessed his great miracles who rebelled. Recall the story of Exodus. God was going to destroy them all (they lost their salvation) but Moses intervened. Because Moses remained faithful, God sparred the people and restored them to eternal salvation. But they still had to penance (works) for their sin. Thus, they were kept out of the Promised Land, the rest. Note, rest is now being used in a dual meaning – eternal rest and the Promised Land (which in turn represents rest from wandering the earth in this life and finding eternal rest in heaven).]
16 Who were they that heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they should never enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
[The speaker is changing his emphasis and has moved into the present. He is telling the audience he is speaking to – you have heard the Good News and not believed. You have repeated the same mistake as the Exodus generation. They met the word of God w/ unbelief. However, the converts – the Christians have believed and entered the NEW REST. Notice, Rest is not now a place or a day but our union with Jesus Christ].
1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them; but the message which they heard did not benefit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall never enter my rest,” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.
[The speaker pivots again. Rest was the Promised Land that was lost by the Exodus generation but Rest is also the Sabbath. Then he equates the two. The Exodus generation lost the Promised Land, this generation (“in this place”) loses the Sabbath. Remember, the speaker is likely speaking to rabbis about why the Temple sacrifices – which were made on new moons, holidays and the Sabbath are no longer being accepted.]
4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this place he said, “They shall never enter my rest.”
[THIS IS THE KEY: this is not just a message of punishment; it is a message of hope because true rest is here “Today”. Read carefully what the speaker is saying. “It remains for some to enter…”. In other words, you Jewish rabbis can still convert and enter the new covenant. The speaker quotes an Old Testament verse that “Today” when you hear his voice do not harden your heart – convert. Since the Sabbath was still a day of rest for rabbi’s we can be reasonably sure that this speech was not delivered on a Saturday. Thus “Today” is any day and everyday.]
6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he sets a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
[If the old Sabbath day had been sufficient, God would not have spoken of a new day. There remains a “Sabbath rest” for the people of God BUT NOTICE, he does not say there remains a Sabbath “day”, there remains a “rest” which we enter into.]
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later of another day. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God; 10 for whoever enters God’s rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his.
[He warns them – don’t mess it up like the Exodus generation before. This verse is often misunderstood to be referring to the Scripture, particularly the New Testament. However, when this speech was delivered and recorded the New Testament didn’t exist yet. Thus, “the scripture” is only a secondary meaning for the phrase “the word of God” in the verse. Read verse 12 and replace “the word of God” w/ “Jesus Christ” who is, of course, the Word made flesh. The author is using a phrase poetically to refer to Jesus. This is confirmed by verse 13 which says, “And before HIM no creature is hidden…]
11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
[B/c Jesus was both man and God he can sympathize with us. True Rest is in him.]
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
I hope this helps you to see the beauty of the above verses. “Rest” has 3 aspects – Salvation (being in God’s presence), a place (the Promised Land) and a day (the Sabbath). The Promised Land and the Sabbath are types – foreshadows of the Eternal Rest in Heaven. But like everything else in the OT these have been completed – fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. The place and the day are no longer far off. When we enter into communion with Jesus Christ we achieve the rest we seek now, “today”. Indeed, Jesus himself said,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Matthew 11: 28-30
Give up your life to him and you will find the rest you seek.