Hebrews 3: 1 – 4: 13
The writer to the Hebrews in this segment of his Epistle employed Psalm 95 in two modes: a moral tone dealt with the perils of unbelief and a typology pointing to the believers’ rest in Christ. Psalm 95 is one of many that uses narrative from Israel’s history to draw pertinent lessons for their Jewish readers. In summary, the psalmist’s exuberance over Yahweh’s personhood broke out into glorifying worship, and he encouraged his readers to do likewise. Then the account suddenly change, and God spoke in the first-person pronoun; He warned them not repeat the Meribah and Massah incidents where the Israelites tested and rebelled against Him and were punished with forty years wandering in the wilderness.
He introduced Moses as a faithful servant to the household of God in Egypt, but now Jesus was the more honourable faithful Son over the church, His Body, of which all believers are a part of, and He remains our hope to the end of days. Psalm 95 was quoted at length, advising his readers to persevere in obeying the voice of God (Heb 3:6-7); by focusing throughout on the word ‘today,’ he repeated the historical context of the Israelite rebellion in the Sinai and cautioned his current readers to endure to the end in their trials, and not repeat the same error as their predecessors. God intentionally saved the Hebrews from their Egyptian overlords, but their spiritual salvation remained highly questionable; it is the differentiation between the head and the heart which likewise catches us out repeatedly in our obedience to God! (Heb 4:2). Although the content of Psalm 95 may appear initially as moral instruction, the writer read into it a typology pointing to the person of Christ (Heb 3:12-19). Being a partaker of Christ in eternal life invariably implies a conviction of holding “fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm in Him until the end” (c.f., Heb 3:1-6, 14). The Apostle Paul was emphatic when he mentioned the depth and repercussions of our reconciliation to God: “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach – if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister” (Col 1:21-23). The implication is that if by His grace, we do persevere to the end, it is itself evidentiary that God has been at work in our life; “to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13), to bring forth fruit worthy of His name (Matt 7:16). Hence, the critical importance of holding fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end is by becoming partakers of Christ (Heb 3:14), or simply being in Christ.
In the next chapter, the writer introduced us into entering God’s rest. What does His rest look like? The nuance concerning this ‘rest’ is not indicative of tiredness from one’s labours, but a ceasing from one’s strivings. The premise of the Hebrew writer as he developed this theme from time immemorial (from the 7th day of creation to the Sabbath rest to rest in the Promised Land after its conquest) is that our final rest is in Christ when we cease from our individualistic works apart from Christ (Heb 3:9-11; Matt 11:28-30). He concludes with a caveat that grasping the intent of the Word of God is critical in our enduring endeavour to come to terms with what He has beforehand prepared for us in accomplishing His will. His Living Word encapsulates His aspirations for humanity that expresses unequivocally the inherent fulness of His Son; life-giving in every way, with its characteristic rest in God. The play on the literal Word and the living Word (i.e., Christ) is obvious, as the Word is alive and discerning, as God is omniscient and omnipresent (Heb 3:12-13).