Online Bible Commentary
Who’s in Charge?
Hebrews 4:1 Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2 For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. 3 Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, "So I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.' "And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. 4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: "And on the seventh day God rested from all his work." 5 And again in the passage above he says, "They shall never enter my rest." (NIV)
A chapter break was added here, though it appears to be unwarranted. This chapter begins with the word “Therefore” which refers to the preceding passage. In the preceding chapter the writer has warned the Hebrews not to fall into the unbelief of their ancestors, those involved in the exodus from Egypt. That entire generation was forced to wander in the desert for forty years until all had perished because of their unbelief. Only two had remained steadfast in trusting God, Caleb and Joshua. Those two were allowed to enter into Canaan, the Promised Land, leading a new generation of Hebrews. The Promised Land was a type of rest, used here in comparison to the ultimate rest, Heaven.
Just as the Hebrews of the Exodus had a promise of rest in the Promised Land, the Hebrews to whom this letter was addressed have a promise of rest in Heaven. “The promise of entering his rest still stands” (v. 1a). The words “be careful” (v. 1b) are translated from the Greek word “phobeomai”, meaning to fear, to be afraid, or to be alarmed. Think of our word “phobia”. The intensity of the meaning is much greater than to “be careful”. The meaning here is that the Hebrews should fear falling short of what is needed to “rest” in Heaven. What is needed, of course, is to hold steadfast in their belief in the Lord.
Both generations, those Hebrews of the exodus and those to whom this letter is addressed, had “the gospel preached” to them (v. 2a). But the message “was of no value” to the Hebrews of the exodus because they did not “combine it with faith” (v. 2b). Although they heard the same message as the current Hebrews, their unbelief made the gospel useless to them. The message alone did not save them. They perished because of their unbelief. Just hearing the gospel is not enough. We must mix the hearing with faith in the lord Jesus Christ.
So the writer and the other Hebrews to whom this letter is written, “who have believed”, “enter that rest” (v. 3a). In contrast, the writer repeats the consequence of unbelief by citing Psalm 95:11, which was also cited in the previous chapter of Hebrews. Unbelievers “shall never enter my rest” (v. 3b).
The writer then cites the third example of God’s “rest” used in this passage, the rest of God’s Sabbath after the six day creation (vv. 3c-4). The writer’s act of combining the “rest” of Psalm 95:11 with the creation account “rest” in Genesis would have been something of which the Hebrew Christians would have been familiar. In the synagogue, during the time of this writing, the liturgy for the beginning of the Sabbath included the recital of Psalm 95:1-11 followed by Genesis 2:1-3. So the writer is appealing to what they had practiced as part of their previous Jewish faith, and applying it to Christianity.
The writer then completes this passage by emphasizing again that those who do not believe “shall never enter my rest” (v. 5), referring to the ultimate rest in Heaven. He does not want the reader to think that “rest” was only available to their ancestors who were given the Promised Land but lost out because of their unbelief. He wants them to know that they can still have “rest”, in the new Promised Land of Heaven.
The message of this writer, likely Paul, is the same message we have today. The Promised Land, Heaven, is available to all who will partake of it. Unfortunately, the gate to Heaven is narrow. Of the 600,000 Hebrews of the generation that started the exodus, only two, Caleb and Joshua, entered the Promise Land. The others, including Moses, did not remain faithful to the Lord to the end.
We also must remain faithful to the end. It is much easier for us today, however. When we profess our belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we Christians of today are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit leads us into a Godly life, if we let Him lead. The Hebrews of the Exodus did not let Moses lead, resulting in them, and Moses, not being allowed to enter the Promised Land. So, we must. We must allow the Holy Spirit to control our lives. We must let go, and let God…take charge of our lives. Who’s in charge of your life?