EXPOSITION OF THE EPISTLE TO
(Continued from Heb.3: 11)
By ROBERT GOVETT, M.A.
Some parts of the dress of Moses’ high priest were mere “memorials”, or reminders of the greater and eternal things to come. The twelve precious stones of the high priest’s breastplate were merely “stones of memorial”. They testified to the foundations of twelve precious stones of the eternal city in which God’s risen saints shall dwell (Exod. 28: 12, 29; 39: 7). Moses’ testimony concerning Melchizedec, the priest-king, is the basis of the argument concerning God’s intention to set aside the priesthood of Aaron. And lastly, the argument concerning the seventh-day future rest of the Most High turns on Moses’ testimony concerning the work of creation, and the observance of the seventh-day rest under the law. Moses’ testimony, as God’s Spirit asserts, is unimpeachable - and the Jews were ready to confess it. On this basis then, the Apostle would frame his argument to the Hebrews. How could they refuse to listen to their trusted witness, when he testified of a greater Teacher, Leader, and High Priest.
Should we not read: “Christ as a Son over His own house?”
No: for that would set aside the question of His faithfulness to a superior: and that is the point
now before us. “Having
an high priest over ‘the house
of God’” (10: 21; 1 Pet. 2: 5; 4: 17). Of Moses it was said: “Faithful in all My house.” But Christ is over it (10: 21). Jesus was herein typed by Joseph, both in his
humiliation, and his exaltation. “Joseph
found grace in his [Potiphar’s] sight, and he served him; and he made him overseer
over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand” (Gen. 39: 4).
God “hath made me [says again Joseph] a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his
house, and a ruler throughout
“Whose house are we.”
Here the sense of “house” is narrowed to signify ‘household’. God is not now ‘dwelling in temples made with hands;’ for what building on earth could man construct suitable to His grandeur, Who fills heaven and earth? But, meanwhile, God looks at and dwells in the ransomed of Christ, and the Church is His “habitation in spirit” - a house of living stones. It is the new spiritual creation, in which the Most High takes pleasure. Believers constitute God’s people and house, presided over by Christ. But it is under condition that they abide in Him. If at all events we (here Paul includes himself) ‘hold fast’ - what they already possessed as believers.
They were to ‘retain with firmness the boldness of the hope they once felt’
What is “the hope” in question? It is the hope attached to the heavenly calling - the coming of Christ to reign in His glory, and His faithful brethren’s association with Him in that day. The brilliancy of this hope had faded in their minds by its long delay, and by the pressure of persecution. They forgot, that “if we suffer [with Christ] we shall also reign with Him.” The life of Christ is the model after which the Christian’s is framed – ‘First to suffer, then to enter the glory.’
That this is the hope is established by many proofs. It is the burthen of the previous two chapers of our Epistle, which present Christ as a second
time to be brought into the habitable earth. It is the kingdom of righteousness which some
shall, as His fellows, enjoy with Christ; in the day when the wickedness of
Christ’s foes shall be put down with strong hand, and the works of God shall be
put in subjection to man; it is the “great salvation”,
“the rest of God”, “the
first resurrection”. It is the
Hints of that day were given by Moses in the various rests connected with the sevens of the Law. We see it also intimated in Moses’ promise before he ascends the mountain; and after the feast of the seventy elders in the presence of God, when he bids them stay where they were, for he would return to them (Exod. 24: 14). To increase Christians’ faith in this return of our Lord, and to encourage their hope of the kingdom, is one of the main objects of this Epistle.
When first they believed, they held with joyous inward confidence the expectation of Christ’s speedy return and kingdom; and the full heart ran over to others with boasts of the glory then to burst forth, and their own participation in it. ‘Come, join the Lord’s people! He is quickly coming to make us His companions in the glory.’ But with the delay of year after year the confidence within decayed, and the testimony without in consequence flagged (Prov. 13: 12).
In forty days
The Spirit of God, then, charges us to hold firmly within, and to testify boldly to those without, the return and the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is to be retained firmly “to the end” – not ‘till our death’; but till His re-appearing. The weakening and shaking of this hope produced, as their effects, the hardening, unfruitfulness, and disobedience of the Hebrew Christians, of which Paul complains.
7. “Wherefore, as saith the Holy Ghost, ‘To-day, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as at the Provocation, during the day of the Temptation in the wilderness, where your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My works forty years.”
The argument which follows up to chapter 4: 12 is an exhortation to believers to seek the millennial rest, and to beware of provoking God, as did Israel of old; else the same God Who shut out Israel from the land of promise will exclude offenders from the day of reward, when Christ takes the kingdom. Paul applies to this purpose the warnings of Psalm 95. Thus this passage runs parallel with the warnings of the Sermon on the Mount, which was also addressed to believers; and with other passages which treat of entry into the kingdom of glory. Many are the passages which treat of the coming reward, which testify of the need of diligence in order to attain it, and of the probability of its being lost.
The Apostle characterizes the passage he is about to give as decisive, for it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. He speaks in the Psalms, and in all Holy Scripture. So our Lord teaches. “For David himself saith by the Holy Ghost” (Mark 12: 36). “And the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10: 35).
The present dispensation is described as “to-day”. It is an especial period, (1) of God’s
call for obedience to Christ, and (2) of His people’s trial on their way to the
glory. With faith in Christ’s blood, as
the Lamb of the true Passover, begins our rescue from Satan, the world, and the
curse. Then comes
the passage through the waters of baptism; after which the wilderness begins. But multitudes of believers prefer to continue
“If ye will hear His voice.”
Jesus is our Moses, the Leader into the glory. “And His rest shall be glory” (Hebrew) (Isa. 11: 10). “Why call ye Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?” “This is My beloved Son; hear Him.” Obedience to the Son is obedience to the Father also. That was the word that came forth from God, when the miniature picture of the kingdom of glory was given. “Not every one that saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7: 21). To-day is the invitation, and trial day; tomorrow the glory.
“Harden not your hearts.”
The obedient listen, for it is the Word of God. But those who are rebellious despise the promises, defy the threats, will not obey the commands. They fortify themselves in their resistance to the Most High. How many believers see baptism; yet on various pretexts slight the command, and refuse the confession of Christ which it carries with it!
Do none but ‘professors’ disobey Christ?
“As in the Provocation, during the day of the Temptation in the wilderness.”
after they had left the Red Sea, and before they had come to
But it seems in our passage as if the Lord regarded the whole time of the sojourn in the wilderness, as a time of provocation and temptation. The chief crisis of it occurred as recorded in the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of the Book of Numbers,* which we will consider presently.
* It is remarkable that the reference to chapters 13. and 14. occurs just after the reference in Heb. 2: 2 to Moses as the ‘faithful servant’ in Num. 12.
“They saw My works forty years.”
God’s works of creation had long been completed, and His rest therein had been
broken. At creation, the angels broke
out into praises, and sang hymns of joy. But now God had wrought on behalf of
Forty years the Lord was provoked: in
spite of His wonderful works on their behalf, the people distrusted and
disobeyed. God was working His wonders
of creation for six days only. His
redemption-wonders were working forty years; wonders of power against their foes; wonders of
favour toward them, mingled with judgments against the disobedient amongst
them. The wonders of redemption are
related far more at large than those of creation; for they concern us more
closely, and are regarded by our God as more important, and more glorifying to
Then we have the effect at last of this continued provocation, on the Most High. He was grieved. The misconduct of His own people touched Him more closely than that of the Egyptians. He traces the provocations of the offenders to the source. “They are always erring in heart.” For the heart of nature is “enmity against God” (Rom. 8).
“They knew not God’s ways.”
A person’s “ways” mean his
conduct, as the consequence of his character. Here is one who has been very kind to a poor
man in his sickness. From that series of
acts I argue to his abiding disposition.
I should say, he is of a benevolent character.
from observed effects we argue to the nature of things. Yonder boiler, under
the pressure of steam which could find no escape, blew up. From that fact I argue as to its character. That is its “way”.
Beware! Do so again, and it will burst once more. So
They did not see His meaning in the varied trials of the way. They thought, that if God led them, there ought to be no check or trouble. But that was not His mind. He condescended to explain to them His reasons in these trials. “Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldst keep His commandments, or no” (Deut. 8: 2). They promised perfect obedience; but they were ignorant of their pride, perverseness, and enmity against God, and the Most High would exhibit the evil of their heart, in their words and actions. “Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee” (ver. 5). Moses, at the close, takes up the same strain. “Ye have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land; the great temptations which thine eyes have seen, the signs, and those great miracles: yet the Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day” (Deut. 29: 2-4; 32.).
“So I sware in My wrath, They shall not enter into My rest.”
Here is - what many will not believe – God’s “wrath” against His people for continued disobedience. May not even a father be justly angry at a son’s disobedience and provocation? At length came His oath of exclusion.
Let us look at the crisis which drew forth this oath a little more particularly.
The people proposed to send twelve spies to view the land,
before they entered it. The proposal
sprang in part from unbelief; but Moses and the Lord sanctioned it. The spies returned after forty days, bearing
witness to the goodness of the land, and bringing also specimens of its grapes,
pomegranates, and figs. ‘Let us go up and possess the
good land’ said Caleb. But then the faithless spies opposed him. . So
gigantic were the inhabitants, so fortified and great were the cities, they
could not take possession. The whole
people took the side of unbelief. They
weighed their own powers against the obstacles to be overcome, and left out the
power of their God. Each one encouraged
the other in unbelief, till they imagined and said that Jehovah had only led
them out of
* Here is a hint of “My rest.” Here is an intimation of the millennial day, when all earth shall be full of God’s glory, and the “Son of man” its centre (Ps. 8.).
Now follows a close application of this history to believers now.
12. “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an ‘evil heart’ of unbelief in departing from the living God.”
Thrice is this word “any of you”
- brought to bear upon the believing Hebrews of that day. “Lest any of you
be hardened.” “Any of you should think he has come too
late for it.” The Holy Spirit
foresaw that the objection would be made – ‘Apply all such
warnings to “professors”: they do
not belong to us! How can believers be accused of unbelief in heart?’
But how could believers in heart “depart from the living God?” We see in the example. ‘God is going to
give us up to our foes! Let us no longer journey with Him and Moses, but turn
To listen to many, we should be ready
to suppose that a ‘not’ had by some accident
dropped out of the text, and that we should read – ‘Let
those not of you take heed of an evil heart of unbelief.’ ‘Lest any of those not of you be hardened by sin.’ Nay, but it is addressed to the unbelief
of believers! In
whose heart is there not some of this old leaven?
‘But why do you compare
Because God does here! Because, even in the regenerate are the remains of old Adam.
If so, this Epistle is a mistake, for it is based upon the opposite principle, - that while believers now are saved by grace, yet in regard of REWARD, they shall, like God’s ancient people, be dealt with “according to works”. Is the Epistle to the Hebrews from God?
“An evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.”
“The living God” of this passage is the Lord Jesus. He has been declared to be the Creator and Sustainer of all. “His years shall not fail.” Peter so confessed Christ: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16.). And the Son is of His Father’s nature. Thus Jesus in resurrection describes Himself: “I am the First and the Last.” “I am He that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of Hades and of Death” (Rev. 1: 17, 18). He is the Lord of life: proved to be so in resurrection; [the One who will be] introducing others into the kingdom by the first resurrection, through His merits (Rev. 5: 9, 10). The New Testament tells us too, that the Israelites in the desert tempted Christ (1 Cor. 10: 9).
“Were it not better for us to return
13. “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘To-day’, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”
The remedy to be opposed to this peril is constant exhortation
of one another. It is to last as long as
the danger of falling back lasts; and that is as long
as God calls the period in which we live “to-day”. “To-day harden not your hearts.” You are in constant danger; ply constantly
this weapon of exhortation. Beware you do not distrust God, and turn back
through fear of the enemies to be encountered; else you will lose the day of
especial glory to which you are called. Seek
the prize of your calling. “Seek first
He who hears God’s Word must not harden his heart. Faith softens the heart: unbelief hardens it. Faith makes us “tremble
at His word”; unbelief makes light of the Lord’s promises and
despised the pleasant land, and gave no credence unto His word.” When they were bid to go up, they would not,
though God was with them. When they were
forbidden, they would go up, though God was against them. It is well with us when we reverence God’s
authority manifested in His Word. But to
stand in opposition to any one command of His is perilous. Sin spreads through the soul like a cancer. We may turn a deaf ear to God’s threats, but
they will prove true at last. We may
comfort ourselves by the numbers of those who, like ourselves, disobey; but the
multitude of the disobedient in
This word of warning is also mirrored for us in the history before us. Caleb stills the murmurs of the people before Moses, and exhorts them to go up at once, and possess the land. Later on, Caleb and Joshua exhort the people to obey; but the multitude fiercely resist the appeal, and cry out to stone the faithful ones. Then all hope of the people’s recovery is over, when exhortation is refused, and the heart is so hardened as to seek the death of the faithful servants. God’s oath then goes forth against the unbelieving and rebellious; and while they attempt in presumption afterwards to go up, yet they are beaten back before the foe, for the Lord was not with them. How many now are hardening themselves against baptism, ‘the Personal Reign’, and the reward according to works!