Understanding the Book of Hebrews - Based on the Exodus
Obviously, there's a particular word that appears in this study many, many times –the word is "Hebrews." It has two distinct uses. Primarily, it's used to refer to Abraham's descendants who came through Isaac and Jacob –the race people that God raised up to pass on His message. It also refers to the New Testament book of the Bible which is named after that people. For this latter case, Hebrews is italicized.
Old Testament Quotes
There are numerous quotes from the Old Testament found in the book of Hebrews. That makes perfect sense –it's written to them so it refers to their historical interactions with God. I'm bringing attention to these referenced quotes because each one is like a bookmark to provide context and thereby deepen the reader's understanding.
It was the Hebrew custom to quote a phrase from a passage of Scripture with the understanding that the context of the quote was to be applied to the subject of discussion. It's much like a bookmark.
In our English language we do the same thing. One example that comes to mind is "Don't pay attention to him, he's just crying Wolf". That's a common reference to the children's teaching story about a shepherd boy who lied to get attention. After being fooled too many times, the town's people quit believing his cries for help and didn't come to his aid. So the boy ended up being eaten by the wolf.
When a person is said to be "crying wolf" it means he is lying and will end up being hurt because of his lies. The speaker of that common phrase assumes that the hearer is familiar with, and will apply, the whole story.
A example from the Bible is found in Hebrews 2:12 where it says: "So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brethren. He says, 'I will proclaim Your name to My brethren, In the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise.'" That comes from Psalm 22:22. The implication is that there is much insight to be gained by reading more than just that one verse in Hebrews 2. Rather, take a look at the whole psalm and you will read Jesus' entire experience on the cross. You see, the "congregation" identified here is the people to came to watch Him die!
So when a phrase from an Old Testament passage is quoted, the whole passage should be examined to understand the rest of the story. This is especially true with quotes referring to Jesus.
Misused Bible Passages from Hebrews 6 and 10
The most troublesome passages in the Bible are found in the book of Hebrews. They are troublesome because they have been misread to perpetuate a false claim –if Christians aren't careful, they can lose their salvation. The first is found in chapter six.
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (Hebrews 6:4-6)
For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. (Hebrews 6:7-8)
Another is in Hebrews chapter 10.
For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27)
The Lies Used by Church Leaders to Frighten and Manipulate Christians
These passages are routinely misused to frighten and manipulate us Christians into changing our behaviors. I grew up in a family that enjoyed trout fishing so I've parenthetically included a bit of the same general strategy used for catching fish that many church leaders use to put us into legalistic bondage.
Imagine yourself in a church service on a given Sunday morning when the preacher presents a message based on one of those Hebrews passages. In his usual convincing style, he follows the reading with an application for those of us in his pews.
- "When you heard and understood the gospel, you became enlightened."
- "Since you were baptized and now have the Holy Spirit, you became a partaker."
- "Jesus said that the word of God is like manna. You have heard the word preached so you have tasted the word of God."
Subtly, he connects us to the people in that passage –I've highlighted those connecting words. Many of us would naively nod our heads in agreement because it makes logical sense. (We fish wouldn't even notice that he carefully lowered his baited hook into the water.)
Next, the preacher affixes consequences to our carnal actions –which are, regrettably, a part of everyday life. These consequences aren't a mere slap on the hand. They are intentional wake-up calls –monumental punishments to be carried out by God Himself!
- "God doesn't tolerate sin; its consequence will soon catch up to you."
- "You have separated yourself from God –you have fallen away."
- "If you continue in your ways, you will be cut off and it is impossible to be brought back to repentance."
- "By not obeying God's commandments, you are rejecting Christ and putting the Son of God to shame."
The experienced preacher makes a persuasive appeal, begins his closing charges and assigns these punishments to us Christians like a jury convicts and sentences a felon to be executed. He's trying to make us squirm in our seats. (The wiggling bait has our attention –we're focused on our sins.)
- "Your life has become a field of thorns and thistles."
- "Change your wicked ways now –you are close to being cursed you have been worthless to God –you will soon be burned up."
- "While you still have time, make your life useful by following God's commandments."
- "Your willful sinning has set you on a course for destruction –you will spend eternity in the fires of Hell!"
By this time, he's maximized our guilt and shame –and brought us into submission. (He's yanked on the line and lodged his hook in our consciences and he's reeling us in as hapless prey.)
After that sermon, we fearfully and tearfully promise to change our ways so that we can somehow escape our due punishment –eternal torment– on Judgment Day. As we leave the church, we thank the preacher for speaking so clearly to our hearts.
The problem is, though, that we come back to hear the same condemnation week after week burdened by the same sins that we can't just elude. Over time, hope fades that we can ever be acceptable to God. A thinking person will eventually conclude that this Christianity thing doesn't and can't work –the abundant life is a myth –and this life on earth is futile.
Don't fall into the trap of believing that lie like I did! The truth is that God has already dealt with our sins once and for all. He does not count our sins against us (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). We are in Christ –and for us there is no condemnation –not at the final judgment –and not now either (Romans 8:1-2).
Know the Scriptural Truth and You Will Be Free!
Paul wrote in First Corinthians that we are to consider the Hebrew people as examples for how we are to live as Christians. But if we don't know how their story pertains to us, we will end up on the same path –and at the same conclusion– than where that condemning preacher was taking us.
This study is intended to put these troublesome passages into the context of the Hebrews' story and consequently free wounded Christians from legalistic teaching. Let me clarify. I use the term Christians to refer to Messianic Jews and Gentiles, alike. And I use the term Hebrews to refer to those that Paul described in the book of Romans –his people that he so dearly loved (Romans 9:1-5).
Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. (Romans 10:1-3)
"A Letter to the Hebrews" is an amazing book in the Bible. It communicates a single message: Jesus is the only way to eternal life with God. Yet, Christian teaching virtually ignores this letter's foundation when associating it with New Testament believers. Every passage needs to be understood how it first relates to Hebrews before it is applied to Christians. Their story is the lens through which the entire book must be viewed in order to be understood.
Continue reading: "Chapter Eleven: Examples of Those Rewarded for Living by Faith"
Your Identity In Christ
And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11 - NIV)