The allegory tying the Hebrews’ history to God’s plan of salvation isn’t supposed to be a mystery that’s understood by a select few. It’s laid in plain sight to persuade all readers of the Old Testament to trust Him and enter His kingdom –His rest –the Sabbath Rest.
Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. (Hebrews 4:1-2)
“For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also.” Isn’t that an intriguing statement? Modern-day believers usually think that the good news –the gospel– was first preached in New Testament times by Jesus, or John the Baptist, or the Apostles. However, God selected Abraham to father a race of people that would be His priests. They would be living examples of the gospel –ambassadors– to the entire world those many years ago.
The good news that they proclaimed by their ministry was that the only way to be acceptable to God was by trusting –having faith in– Him and His works. But their hearing wasn’t enough, “it was not united by faith in those who heard.” Except for two (Joshua and Caleb), all 603,550 of the able-bodied men that Moses counted in the census (Numbers 1:44-46) heard that message and they still failed to trust God –they didn’t enter the land. The passage above cautions the generations that followed to not make the same horrific choice that their forefathers did.
For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, “As I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest,” although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; and again in this passage, “They shall not enter My rest.” (Hebrews 4:3-5)
Their rebellion –their refusal to trust Him– resulted in God’s resolute punishment. We saw the dreadful phrase “They shall not enter My rest” (from Psalm 95) in chapter three –and it’s repeated here twice again.
God completed the creation by the seventh day –and it was perfect. That Genesis account contains another allegory –one explaining that by the end of that creation week He also completed the way for mankind’s restoration. And that was before the fall happened! On the surface, entering His rest is about going into the Promised Land; but even more, it’s about entering the kingdom of God by following His Son and living there forever.
Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.”
For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.
For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:6-11)
The warning is quoted again, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” It’s an alarm that was calling them to come out of the desert-wilderness and into His rest –not just the Promised Land that Joshua took their forefathers into– but into life restored to its original glory in His presence. The psalm told them to recognize, praise and give thanks to their Shepherd, their great God and King, the Owner and Creator of all.
Everywhere the people went, the ark was prominently carried before them. It was made of wood and covered in gold, it had angels sitting on top, it was the seat on which blood was spilled annually for the payment of sin. It contained manna in a gold jar, the Ten Commandments and Aaron’s rod. Each is a monumental reminder. The manna was evidence of God’s necessary and sufficient provision. The Commandments proved mankind’s rebellious, untrusting ways. And Aaron’s rod signified the high priest’s authority.
The Hebrews set up the tabernacle, with all its furnishings, in the center of every place they camped. They attended worship services every Sabbath. Their priests wore holy garments. There were choirs and baptisms and sermons. They dedicated their children. Their sacrifices were both the first and the best of their livestock (and later their harvests). They kept the sacred feasts –with extra attention paid to the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and to the Passover. They gave tithes and contributed to special collections. Their lives were patterned after God-given traditions.
All of their outward actions appeared to be godly, but their hearts were a totally different matter. They refused to trust Him –to enter His salvation on His terms.
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12-13)
God looks deep into each and every person’s heart to determine their eternal destination. He divides their “soul and spirit” –cutting away their self-centered thoughts from their faith in Him. He divides their “joints and marrow” –discarding their foolish behaviors, leaving only their inner desires to please Him. God searches out those who trust Him.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
We read in chapter two about Jesus –that “He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). And He did that by living with the people, enduring the troubles of this human life –and by making the ultimate offering of His own blood on the cross to pay for all.
This passage says that He “has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” After forty days in the desert, Satan approached Jesus. He was tempted in His body to trust Himself for bread instead of His Father for nourishment (Matthew 4:1-4). He was tempted in His soul to trust Himself to gain power and authority instead of trusting His Father for significance (Matthew 4:8-11). He was tempted in His spirit to trust Himself to keep His life instead of His Father to maintain life eternally (Matthew 4:5-7). During His life He faced temptation from His people with insults and rejection. As the Son of God, He could have destroyed them –or forced them to respect Him. Yet, He trusted His Father –that each and every trial was crucial. That’s what qualified Him to enter heaven –the true Holy of Holies– as the Great High Priest. It’s also what makes Him approachable on “His throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
The word Great in His title of “Great High Priest” reveals that He fulfilled what the previous high priests couldn’t –because they weren’t without sin. There is no longer any need for men to continue in that role. His Son does it just fine.
Here we are at the end of chapter four and we see an appeal for the people to act upon what they said they believed –“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.”
Joshua’s Hebrew name is actually Yhowshua –typically pronounced Yeshua– and it means “Jehovah-saved” or “the Lord’s salvation.” He is the one who finished the task of taking the Hebrews from the desert-wilderness, through the Jordan River and into the Promised Land. He led them to a place that he had been before –and he testified about its goodness. (Chapter two noted the meaning of Isaiah’s Hebrew name. It and Joshua’s are nearly identical.)
Joshua correlates to Jesus. We traditionally call Him by His Greek name, Jesus; but Joshua is His Hebrew name. Like the Joshua before Him, He takes believers to a place that He had been before –into the presence of His Father. It’s what He testified about all of His earthly life. And it’s the Hebrew name Joshua –Jehovah-saved– that God the Father was talking about when He said “My name is in him” (Exodus 23:20-22).