Bible croppedThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 4:6-11

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God[a] would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

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Last week’s entry discussed God’s denial of eternal rest to unbelievers, using Psalm 95 as a reference point.

These verses conclude the dissertation by the author of Hebrews on Psalm 95 and the disobedient, wilful Israelites in the desert.

To better understand this in terms of the author’s Jewish audience, John MacArthur lays out the context of the importance of Mosaic law (emphases mine):

this is an important message for the Jew because the Jew prided himself on the fact that he had the information. He figured all I got to do is have the law, and I’m in. I don’t have to worry about obeying as long as I possess it. Which is ridiculous, but in Romans chapter 2, listen to the argument. Verse 25, “For circumcision verily profiteth, if you keep the law.” The Jew would say, “Well, we’re circumcised! Us! Doesn’t that get us automatically in? I mean, we’re circumcised.” He says, “Well, circumcision’s good if you keep the law.” It’s like the guy, you know, who went into the ring and before every fight he made the signs of the cross, you know. And one guy said, “Does it help?” He says, “It does if you can fight.”

it’s like a cop pulling you over to the side of the road and he says, “You just went through three red lights. You were speeding.” And you say, “I’m sorry, officer. You can’t give me a ticket. I have a copy of the California state code of laws. I own one. I own a book on how to drive. I’m sorry, I’ve got all the information. I’m not responsible. You can’t punish me. I know the information.” That doesn’t mean anything. That makes you all the more responsible. And in Romans chapter 2, “Circumcision profiteth if you keep the law, but if you’re a breaker of the law, your circumcision is made uncircumcision.” And they were rejoicing over the fact that they possessed the law, figuring that’s all that matters, you know, we’ve got the law.

That said, original audience notwithstanding, as I have written several times before, the Book of Hebrews also has vital messages for Christians:

Some people say, “Well, I go to church.” That doesn’t mean anything. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car. That has nothing to do with it. And the whole issue is faith. The whole issue’s not activity. It’s faith. And unless the information is mixed with faith, it profits you nothing and you need to beware because you may come short of rest. But when somebody hears the word of God and believes it, then they’re saved.

In verse 6, the author addresses the Jews who converted to Christianity but were nonetheless torn by clinging to their former faith. Their families were angry with them and civil authorities were persecuting them, too. They were losing heart in their conversions, just as a number of Israelites turned away from God in the desert on the way to the Promised Land, Canaan. Their wilfulness in the desert caused God to desert them, just as they had deserted Him. That is a powerful judgement, and one that lasts forever. This is what the author is warning about.

Hence, the citation of Psalm 95 in verse 7. The word ‘today’ has an urgency about it. If we hear God’s voice today, may we not harden our hearts against Him. We do not know what tomorrow will bring. We have no claim on tomorrow, only God does.

The author then speaks of a Sabbath rest. There was a prescribed day of rest — the Sabbath — for the Israelites to praise and worship God (verses 8,9). The Lord rested on the seventh day after He created the universe (verse 10). We are commanded to follow His example.

There was also the concept of Canaan as a place of rest for those who believed in God and obeyed His commands on the long way there.

Matthew Henry reminds us that part of the Old Testament day of rest was also devoted to praying for God to send the Messiah — our Redeemer — to them:

(1.) From God’s finishing his work of creation, and so entering into his rest (Hebrews 4:3,4), appointing our first parents to rest the seventh day, to rest in God. Now as God finished his work, and then rested from it, and acquiesced in it, so he will cause those who believe to finish their work, and then to enjoy their rest. (2.) From God’s continuing the observance of the sabbath, after the fall, and the revelation of a Redeemer. They were to keep the seventh day a holy sabbath to the Lord, therein praising him who had raised them up out of nothing by creating power, and praying to him that he would create them anew by his Spirit of grace, and direct their faith to the promised Redeemer and restorer of all things, by which faith they find rest in their souls. (3.) From God’s proposing Canaan as a typical rest for the Jews who believed: and as those who did believe, Caleb and Joshua, did actually enter into Canaan; so those who now believe shall enter into rest.

Then the author leads on from temporal rest to eternal rest. Again, the author warns against disobedience in this life, because eternal rest is only for the faithful (verse 11). On that day, our earthly duties to God and to our neighbour come to an end.

Henry explains:

(4.) From the certainty of another rest besides that seventh day of rest instituted and observed both before and after the fall, and besides that typical Canaan-rest which most of the Jews fell short of by unbelief; for the Psalmist has spoken of another day and another rest, whence it is evident that there is a more spiritual and excellent sabbath remaining for the people of God than that into which Joshua led the Jews (Hebrews 4:6-9), and this rest remaining, [1.] A rest of grace, and comfort, and holiness, in the gospel state. This is the rest wherewith the Lord Jesus, our Joshua, causes weary souls and awakened consciences to rest, and this is the refreshing. [2.] A rest in glory, the everlasting sabbatism of heaven, which is the repose and perfection of nature and grace too, where the people of God shall enjoy the end of their faith and the object of all their desires. (5.) This is further proved from the glorious forerunners who have actually taken possession of this rest–God and Christ. It is certain that God, after the creating of the world in six days, entered into his rest; and it is certain that Christ, when he had finished the work of our redemption, entered into his rest; and these were not only examples, but earnests, that believers shall enter into their rest: He that hath entered into rest hath also ceased from his own works as God did from his, Hebrews 4:10. Every true believer hath ceased from his own works of righteousness, and from the burdensome works of the law, as God and Christ have ceased from their works of creation and redemption.

The gravity and import of this cannot be overemphasised.

John MacArthur says that the whole of the Bible is about restoring mankind to the beautiful rest that Adam had in the Garden of Eden before Original Sin. Adam did not have to do anything but enjoy God and His creation. He was at rest with God. Then, the serpent tempted Eve with a false promise of knowledge. Ever after, Adam had to work. Eve knew the physical pain of childbirth which, no doubt, would have been a breeze had she not fallen into sin.

This is what MacArthur says about God’s wish to reconcile mankind with Him — in rest. He started with Adam and progresses to the present day:

God said, “It’s done, and I’ve made a wonderful world for man. And I’ve plopped him down there, and I’ve given him a wife, and now everything is set. And I’m going to let him enjoy his relationship with me.” And Adam was walking and talking with God. He was at rest. He was in God’s rest. He leaned on God. He had no anxieties. He had no worries. He had the complete freedom, the fellowship with God. He was living in God’s rest. God had finished his work, and God rested. That’s what it says in verse 3 at the end. “Although the works were finished from the foundation of the world, for He spoke in a certain place of the seventh day in this way,” – and this certain place is Genesis 2, 1 and 2 – “And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.”

Now, stay with me on this. You’re going to have to use your brain for a minute. “My rest,” – verse 3, right? – “My rest,” – right in the middle of verse 3 – “Is defined as the rest which began when God finished his works and rested on the seventh day.” That it. It’s right there, a definition. God’s rest began right after the sixth day of creation. God was satisfied. He was infinitely satisfied and He rested, and He said, “Well, man, you can enter into my rest. I’ve made you a lovely world. You and I are going to get along. It’s just fellowship from here on out. You’re going to enjoy my rest.”

And there was only one condition. What’s always the condition for God’s rest? One word; what is it? Faith. Believe. What happened? Did Adam and Eve believe God or did they believe Satan? They believed Satan’s lies, didn’t they? Satan came down and started impugning the Word of God, and pretty soon Eve thought, “Hmm, I don’t know about this. Sure looks good. Maybe God’s, I don’t know – I’d like to be smart like that too and know good and evil.” And Satan kept working on her, and she disobeyed. And what happened? Immediately, unbelief forfeited what? Rest.

And you know what happened, Adam was restless. No longer did he walk and talk in the cool of the day. He started making clothes and hiding behind trees, didn’t he? Sneaking around with Eve, trying to stay out of the sight of God. You see what happened immediately, unbelief brought the forfeiting of rest and it was over with. And God’s great rest that he’d provided for His creation, man, was lost. You know what the history of the Bible is and the history of men? It’s the effort of God’s part to try to get man to get back into His rest.

Now, God had to do one other thing to make it available to man, and what was that? He had to accomplish the taking care of sin. And so the coming of Jesus Christ took care of the sin issue, and through that death of Christ, men may enter back into God’s rest. And even the people who lived before Jesus were saved on the basis of what God was going to do in Christ, right? We who were saved on this side of the Cross are saved on the basis of what God has done in Christ. But Christ bore sins, past and future. So, through Jesus Christ, God’s rest still continues, and men may still enter into His rest, and the history of God’s dealing with men is an attempt on God’s part to get men to enter His rest of which Canaan was a symbol.

And so God finished His perfect work, and man blew it. And man became restless because of unbelief. And verse 5 says, “And in this place again,” – and they’re quoting Psalm 95 – “They shall not enter into my rest.” God says, “Because of unbelief, man can’t enter.” God provided a rest on the seventh day, and it‘s been going on ever since, and the only people who ever enter into it are those who believe.

My friends, I believe in my heart that those people who sinned in the wandering in the wilderness not only forfeited Canaan but unless they exercised personal faith in God sometime through those 40 years, they forfeited eternal life of which Canaan was only a symbol. And so God swears that because of unbelief, men will not enter his rest.

I really hope that we think about that, not only today but also in future.

Speaking of rest, there was a time when shops were closed on Sundays. If they opened, it was in the morning. Everyone had a day of rest.

In the 1970s, shopping malls in the US began to open on Sundays. I can’t criticise that too much, because, after church, we would go to the mall.

In the 1980s, many US states that had ‘blue laws’ — no or limited Sunday openings — rescinded them, leaving shops free to open on the day of rest. I continued to go to the mall after church. By then, it was something one did.

Now, decades later, I wonder why so many of us do not observe a day of rest.

Barring those of us who have to work on Sundays — and I was obliged to do plenty of that in my time — there are seemingly endless Sunday obligations that do not include church. In fact, the timing of sports practice, to give but one example, precludes church attendance in many cases, at least here in the UK.

Do we no longer rest on a Sunday because we no longer attend church? Or do we no longer attend church because we cannot bring ourselves to rest? Or is church that ‘bad’ theologically that we no longer attend?

More and more people no longer attend church — or spend time reading the Bible and praying — yet, more and more people are restless. They cannot bear to a) be alone, b) sit in silence or c) relax.

Many Westerners, I would posit, are not at rest because they are not at rest with God in their daily lives.

Let’s quickly look at the rest of Hebrews 4.

The verses following today’s reading are severe. This is a Year B reading for a Sunday during the season after Pentecost. These verses say that everyone comes under divine scrutiny, if not judgement. This passage clearly disproves what atheists say:

12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

That should be engraved on every church.

After that, the author begins a dissertation on Jesus Christ as the Great High Priest. Much of this section, which runs beyond Chapter 4, is in the Lectionary, thankfully.

The author gives an ideal introduction, inspired by the Holy Spirit, revealing Christ’s mercy in His divinity and His humanity:

Jesus the Great High Priest

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 do not have 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.

Absolutely! Would that we recalled that verse more often.

Hebrews is an unsung book, yet, it is one with so many essential lessons for us as Christians. Read it and rejoice, with thanksgiving!

Next week’s reading introduces a warning against apostasy in light of redemption through our Great High Priest.

Next time — Hebrews 5:11-14