Hebrews 4 Commentary

vv.1-10 “The author argues that the purposes of God are not frustrated because Israel of old disobeyed him and failed to enter the rest he had promised his people. The promise remains. If the ancient Israelites did not enter God’s rest, then someone else will, namely the Christians. But this should not lead to complacency. If the Israelites of an earlier day, with all their advantages, failed to enter the rest, Christians ought not to think there will be automatic acceptance for them. They must take care lest they, too, fail to enter the blessing.”[1]

v.2 “The parallel between those Israelites and the people of God in the new age is impressive enough for the disaster which befell the former to serve as a warning to the latter. The Israelites of those earlier days had good news proclaimed to them, just as the readers of this epistle had good news proclaimed to them. (cf. 2:3f.). But the hearing of the good news brought no lasting benefit to those earlier Israelites; it did not ensure their attainment of the goal for which they set out. Why? Because they did not appropriate the good news by faith when they heard it. The good news which was proclaimed to them, summarized in such Old Testament passages as Ex. 19:3-6; 23;20-33, told them how the God of their fathers, who had delivered them from Egypt, would bring them safely to the promised land and give them possession of it, and would make them ‘a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation’ to himself, if only they would obey his voice and keep his covenant. The reason why this message did not do them as much good it was designed to do was that, in spite of their serious undertaking, they did not obey his voice or keep his covenant: ‘they brought no admixture of faith to the hearing of it’ (NEB). The practical implication is clear: it is not the hearing of the gospel by itself that brings final salvation, but its appropriation by faith; and if that faith is a genuine faith, it will be a persistent faith.”[2]

vv.6-7 “It was disobedience, as we have seen, that kept the generation of the Exodus out of God’s promised rest, in spite of the good news which was announced to them. But that same promised rest was still open for the people of God centuries after the wilderness period, for the writer of Ps.95 urges his contemporaries to listen to the voice of God ‘today,’ instead of hardening their hearts in obstinacy like their ancestors and being debarred from entering into the rest of God as they had been.”[3]

vv.7-9 “in Psalm 95:7–11 David hears God’s voice saying to the people that if they do not harden their hearts they can enter into his rest. That is to say, hundreds of years after Joshua had led the people into the rest of the Promised Land God is still appealing to them to enter into his rest. There is more to this rest than merely entry into the Promised Land.[4]

v.8 “It is plain (our author implies) that the ‘rest’ spoken of in Ps. 95:11 is not the earthly Canaan. For that land of rest was occupied by the Israelites of the second generation, who entered it under the command of Joshua. The people addressed in the ninety-fifth psalm were already living in the land of Canaan, as their ancestors had been for generations now. Likewise, the ‘rest’ which they were in danger of forfeiting through stubbornness of heart must have been something different from the ‘rest …from all their enemies round about’ which God had given to Israel in Joshua’s day (Josh. 23:1; cf.21:44).”[5]

vv.9-10 “This rest which is reserved for the people of God is properly called a ‘sabbath rest’ – a sabbatismos or ‘sabbath keeping’ — because it is their participation in God’s own rest. When God completed his work of creation, he ‘rested’; so his people, having completed their service on earth, will enter into his rest.”[6]

v.10 “There is a sense in which to enter Christian salvation means to cease from one’s works and rest securely on what Christ has done. And there is a sense in which the works of the believer, works done in Christ, have about them that completeness and sense of fulfillment that may fitly be classed with the rest in question.”[7]

v.12 “‘Living and active’ shows that there is a dynamic quality about God’s revelation. It does things. Specifically it penetrates and, in this capacity, is likened to a ‘double-edged sword’ (for the sword, cf. Isa 49:2; Eph 6:17; Rev 19:15; and for the double-edged idea, cf. Rev 1:16; 2:12).

The Word of God is unique. No sword can penetrate as it can.”[8]

“What the author is saying is that God’s Word can reach to the innermost recesses of our being. We must not think that we can bluff our way out of anything, for there are no secrets hidden from God. We cannot keep our thoughts to ourselves. There may also be the thought that the whole of man’s nature, however we divide it, physical as well as nonmaterial, is open to God. With ‘judges’ we move to legal terminology. The Word of God passes judgment on men’s feelings (enthymeseon) and on their thoughts (ennoion). Nothing evades the scope of this Word. What man holds as most secret he finds subject to its scrutiny and judgment.”[9]

v.13 “Here the same truth is expressed in different imagery. This time the impossibility of hiding anything from God is illustrated by the thought of nakedness. ‘Nothing in all creation,’ or ‘no created being’ (ktisis means ‘the act of creating’ and then ‘a created being,’ ‘a creature’), remains invisible to God. ‘Uncovered’ renders gymna, a word used of the soul being without the body (2Cor 5:3), of a bare kernel of grain (1Cor 15:37), or of a body without clothing (Acts 19:16). Here it means that all things are truly uncovered before God.”[10]

v.15 “He went through everything that a man has to go through and is like us in all things—except that he emerged from it all completely sinless. […] The fact that Jesus was without sin means that he knew depths and tensions and assaults of temptation which we never can know. So far from his battle being easier it was immeasurably harder. Why? For this reason—we fall to temptation long before the tempter has put out the whole of his power. We never know temptation at its fiercest because we fall long before that stage is reached. But Jesus was tempted far beyond what we are; for in his case the tempter put everything he possessed into the assault. Think of this in terms of pain. There is a degree of pain which the human frame can stand—and when that degree is passed a person loses consciousness so that there are agonies of pain he can not know. It is so with temptation. We collapse in face of temptation; but Jesus went to our limit of temptation and far beyond it and still did not collapse. It is true to say that he was tempted in all things as we are; but it is also true to say that no one was tempted as he was.”[11]

v.16 “The Christian idea of God as a loving Father is interwoven into the very fabric of our mind and heart; but it was a new idea. To the Jew the basic idea of God was that he was holy in the sense of being different. In no sense did he share our human experience and was in fact incapable of sharing it just because he was God.

“It was even more so with the Greeks. The Stoics, the highest Greek thinkers, said the primary attribute of God was apatheia, by which they meant essential inability to feel anything at all. They argued that if a person could feel sorrow or joy it means that some other person was able to influence him. If so, that other person must, at least for that moment, be greater than he. No one, therefore, must be able in any sense to affect God for that would be to make him greater than God; and so God had to be completely beyond all feeling. The other Greek school was the Epicureans. They held that the gods lived in perfect happiness and blessedness. They lived in what they called the intermundia, the spaces between the worlds; and they were not even aware of the world.

“The Jews had their different God; the Stoics, their feelingless gods; the Epicureans, their completely detached gods. Into that world of thought came the Christian religion with its incredible conception of a God who had deliberately undergone every human experience. Plutarch, one of the most religious of the Greeks, declared that it was blasphemous to involve God in the affairs of this world. Christianity depicted God not so much involved as identified with the suffering of this world. It is almost impossible for us to realize the revolution that Christianity brought about in men’s relationship to God. For century after century they had been confronted with the idea of the untouchable God; and now they discovered one who had gone through all that man must go through.[12]


[1] Leon Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12 CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981).

[2] Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews, The Bible Speaks Today series (Downers Grove, Il:Inter-Varsity Press, 1982) 105-106.

[3] Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews, The Bible Speaks Today series (Downers Grove, Il:Inter-Varsity Press, 1982) 106.

[4] William Barclay, The letter to the Hebrews, The Daily study Bible series CD (Philadelphia, PN: The Westminster Press, 2000).

[5] Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews, The Bible Speaks Today series (Downers Grove, Il:Inter-Varsity Press, 1982) 108.

[6] Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews, The Bible Speaks Today series (Downers Grove, Il:Inter-Varsity Press, 1982) 109.

[7] Leon Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12 CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981).

[8] Leon Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12 CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981).

[9] Leon Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12 CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981).

[10] Leon Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12 CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981).

[11] William Barclay, The letter to the Hebrews, The Daily study Bible series CD (Philadelphia, PN: The Westminster Press, 2000).

[12] William Barclay, The letter to the Hebrews, The Daily study Bible series CD (Philadelphia, PN: The Westminster Press, 2000).

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