Bags of Bran


Hebrews Four
March 25, 2013, 9:26 am
Filed under: Bible

You’ve heard this preached before: “We can be encouraged because God’s Word is like a sharp, two-edged sword.” It does surgery on our hearts, cuts through the unbeliever’s defenses, cures your anxieties, makes our wallets nice and fat, advances the gospel lifestyle in the eyes of the world, etc. It, like the rest of Scripture, is there to make you feel good about yourself as long as your life is an expression of solidarity to the Purpose.

I would imagine you could go to Lifewaaay stores and find coffee mugs, wall art, and birthday cards with Hebrews 4:12 on them. It’s one of those verses.

What you likely haven’t heard preached is Hebrews 4:12 in its context. It is possible for me to speculate why this might be the case, but it is more profitable to attempt to expose what the author of Hebrews (hereafter referred to as “the author of Hebrews”) is really saying.

Start in 3:5 and read through the OT citation:

5 Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later;
6 but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.
7 Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says,
“TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE,
8 DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME,
AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS,
9 WHERE YOUR FATHERS TRIED Me BY TESTING Me,
AND SAW MY WORKS FOR FORTY YEARS.
10 “THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION,
AND SAID, ‘THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART,
AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS’;
11 AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH,
‘THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.’ ”

Encouraging stuff, right? Here’s a group I’d like to be part of! Hardened hearts, provoking God, subject to God’s anger, always astray in their hearts; alienated from His ways, and not able to enter His rest! This is probably why Hebrews is not a popular book.

Keep reading to the end of the chapter.

12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.
13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end,
15 while it is said,
“TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE,
DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS, AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME.”
16 For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses?
17 And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?
18 And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient?
19 So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.

See the theme? “Falls away from the living God…” “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin…” and especially “fell in the wilderness.” That last phrase will come up again.

Now, on to ch. 4. Look at the first two verses:

1 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.
2 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.

 

Looks like there’s a fork in the road here: there’s the “us” and there are those who “have come short.” Looks like the difference is that for the “us,” the word profits because it is united by faith in the hearer. What benefit is that? Keep reading:

3 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.
4 For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS”;
5 and again in this passage, “THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.”
6 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,
7 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.”
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that.
9 So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.

So then, there is a rest (whatever that is) for the people of God; but those who do not believe the word preached forfeit any right to enter into that rest (whatever that is).

10 For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.

This sounds like at least somewhat of an explanation of this rest. To me, it sounds like the eternal state: to a “Gospel is my Homeboy” type, it probably sounds like “Jesus died for the sins I’ve got scheduled for today.” I don’t know, I don’t plan to ask one.

Almost there, keep reading:
11 Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.

There’s a word in that sentence of warning that may be of some use to your understanding of Hebrews 4:12: “fall.” Look back at Heb. 3:17. Now look at 4:11. The word “Fall” in 4:11 anchors the understanding to the Jews in the wilderness: what happened to them because of unbelief? Every individual who did not believe (the Greek in 3:17 consists of all singular nouns and verbs) fell as a corpse in the wilderness. Every single one. Similarly, every individual who follows that same pattern of disobedience will fall, with the corpses of the Exodus as his jury.

[What does “wilderness” correspond to in the NT? If you were familiar with my immediate circle of churches, you wouldn’t have to ask.]

Hebrews 4:12 in the NASB begins with “For,” and in the NA27 begins with γὰρ (in its usual postpositive position). These are logical connective type words, readying you, O reader, for the upcoming thought to explain the previous one. Why do disobedient people fall like corpses?

12 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.

Here is as sober a warning as can be imagined. Those who died during the Exodus cry out as an example to us: their corpses littering the desert confirm the truth at hand: God sees your heart, and he knows every thought and intention. If you are a pretender, He will cut you down. Christ will pierce you with His sharp sword (Is 49:2; Rev 1:16; 19:15), and He will divide your soul from your spirit (see Gen. 2:7). A rather hard-to-get-at part of your anatomy will be laid bare with ease (marrow, inside your bones). Think you’re fooling God by hiding in the church? Think your ability to fool man has you in good stead? Look at v. 13:

13 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.

Now that the author of Hebrews has sufficiently warned us (for there is no other way to understand chapters 3 and 4 than as warnings of the sternest stripe), he can comfort the fearful.

14 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.
15 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.
16 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.

Here is a passage which lets weak believers know that they are not subject to Christ’s terrible sword, despite their misgivings about their own worthiness. The weak are likely the ones to take these warnings to heart. In fact, Christ Himself has felt that weakness: perhaps that is why pretenders receive no mercy. Here is hope: not that holding fast the confession will be easy, as some like to teach, but that we have help available at all times of need. Our great High Priest is there, and He understands.

Find encouragement where God puts encouragement. Find warning where God puts warning.

 

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