HEBREWS EXPOUNDED (4: 1- 5).

 

By

 

ROBERT GOVETT, M.A.

 

 

The displeasure which God felt against the sinful of Israel impelled Him to cut them off, and they died in the desert.  I should gather that most of them were left unburied.  His oath not uttered until unbelief had ripened into disobedience.  But unbelief was the root whence sprang the refusal to enter [their earthly inheritance], and Godís sentence of exclusion ensued thereupon.

 

Their unbelief rising to its height in disobedience, drew down the punishment of God.  Beware of like conduct, that you may escape the like end.  For we [Christians] are of the same nature as they; and God is still the same.  He has erected this lighthouse on the rock on which they suffered shipwreck; that we may escape.  And while to most Christians this danger is not presented, to you, reader, it is.

 

Faith led them out of Egypt and through the Red Sea; but unbelief made them fall in the wilderness.  They attained not to the hope of their calling - the land of promise.  The enemy was drowned in the Red Sea.  They passed safely through that; but they offended, and were cut off in the desert.  Let us fear God, as well as love Him!  Let us not love, like Demas, this present evil age, lest we attain not the hope set before us.

 

Israelís was a particular unbelief (Deut. 1: 32).  Their God, they thought, had not power to lead them into the land He promised; and, after all, it was no great object of desire!  But, in our day, multitudes of [regenerate] believers deny and scoff at "the hope of our calling" - the personal reign of Christ and His accepted ones [in His Millennial Kingdom].

 

Chapter 4: 1. "Let us fear, therefore, lest a promise being left [us] of entering into His rest, any of you should think that he has come too late for it."

 

The previous chapter has set before us Israelís loss of Godís rest, with the causes of that loss.  The [95th.] psalmís warnings, it is supposed, apply to us [today]: and mutual exhortation of Christians is proposed as the remedy against falling away.  But to this view an evident objection was sure to arise in an Israeliteís mind: ĎWhy, Paul, all that has long ago come to an end.  Both (1) the call into the rest, and (2) the rest itself, have been fulfilled ages ago!  God rested in creation: that is past, I suppose!  The rest of which the Psalmist speaks was given in Joshuaís day.  For, though the perverse generation did not enter the land, yet the younger men under Mosesí successor fought their way in; and we possess it now, as the result of their conquest

 

It is on this point that the succeeding argument turns.  The writer shows, that the rest spoken of in the psalm has never yet been accomplished. The call to have part in the millennial day of joy and privileges is still in force, with the consequent perils and besetments of those travelling to it.

 

I have translated the close of the first verse now before us differently from the Established Version.  If we retain the usual rendering, the sense would be: ĎFear, lest you should be left upon the earth as an unwatchful servant, after your watchful brethren have been removed by the first rapture

 

But that does not suit either (1) the words of the verse; or (2) the scope of the passage.  The Greek word Ďto come shortí is in the perfect: it should in that case have been in the present.  (3) The Apostle is warning us against not a seeming and partial loss, but an entire forfeiture of the prize, under the oath of God.  (4) After such a fear, as that translation supposes, the course of the Apostleís argument would have been entirely altered.

 

Translate the verse as I have done,* and it falls perfectly into the following line of argument, and is just such an objection as was likely to occur both to Jew and Gentile.

 

[* The authors who defend this translation are given by Alford on the passage.  Alford admits that it may be so rendered.]

 

"Let us fear."  How should there be room for fear, if we are, as believers, certain of that rest?  God is not to be mocked.  We believers have to do with a real peril, as Israelís example proves. Here is a just admonition against the teaching of some, who, seeing only eternal life, and the certainty of it to Godís elect, assert that no Christian ought to fear.  Now, in regard of eternal life as the gift of God, that is true.  But when the question relates to the prize of the millennial glory, and the reward to be rendered to the believerís work, fear ought to come in.  "Work out your own salvation* with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2: 12).  So Peter - whose two Epistles treat of the millennial glory: "If ye call on the Father, Who with respect of persons judges accordingly to the work of each, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear" (1 Pet. 1: 17; 2Cor. 7: 1).

 

[* The Epistle to the Philippians regards Ďsalvationí as yet future, to be attained only Ďin the day of Christ'.] 

 

"Any of you should think he has come too late for it."

 

Here the writer changes the pronoun.  Before it was, ĎLet us fear.í  He says here, ĎAny of you:í for the mistake he now names did not apply to himself.  He was sure, that Godís rest had not begun; but that the call was still made to believers, bidding them seek to enter into the coming glory.

 

The Greek word means to Ďcome shortí either in relation of (1) place or of (2) time.  A man might lose his train, either by being a mile off the station when the train left; or by falling asleep in the waiting-room, and only being roused after the train had started.  Here the coming short refers to time.  Some would think, that the rest here spoken of was long ago past, and, if so, they would take no pains to seek an entrance into it.  So great is the boon here set before us, that the Holy Spirit always urges the use of all diligence in attaining it.  And Satan, on the other hand, seeks to induce a belief of its being a small affair, an illusion, or long ago past.  ĎThe first resurrection is past alreadyí, was one of his ancient deceits (2 Tim. 2.).  Another idea, equally effectual to quench the true view, is, that the rest is a spiritual attainment, possessed now by all Godís rightly instructed people.

 

"Lord, I believe a rest remains.

 

To all Thy people known,"

 

as Charles Wesley sings.  But our passage is speaking of a future rest of reward.  Four times it is spoken of as unfulfilled. (1) "A promise being left". (2) "It remaineth that some must enter therein" (verse 6).  (3) "There remaineth therefore a rest" (verse 9).  (4) "Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest" (verse 11).

 

The translators did not understand this passage: hence their renderings have only darkened a place already obscure through much condensation.  In the Established Version it would seem, as if the Gospel of Jesusí death, resurrection, and forgiveness through Him, had been preached to Israel before it had been proclaimed to us.  That, of course, is not the meaning.  There are two Gospels, or two glad tidings of God!  (1) The one proclaimed by Evangelists in our day is "the Gospel of the Son of God", "the Gospel of the Christ", "the Gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20: 24; Rom. 1: 9; Gal. 1: 7-9).

 

(2) But the Gospel which our Lord proclaimed to Israel was "the Gospel of the kingdom".  "Jesus went about all Galilee teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom" (Matt. 4: 23; 9: 35; 24: 14).  After His entry into Capernaum the people seek to detain Him.  "But He said unto them, I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also; for therefore am I sent" (Luke 4: 43; 7: 22; 8: 1).  This is called by Paul, "the Gospel of the glory of the Christ" (2 Cor. 4: 4; 1 Tim. 1: 11).

 

This is another name for the doctrine of the millennium; a doctrine remaining to be taught to those who have already received the good news of present forgiveness through Jesus risen.  These glad tidings were taught to Israel long ago, both by Moses and the prophets; and they are [or should be] proclaimed still.  Abraham is still waiting for the accomplishment of the promises made to him*; and Abrahamís sons, both of the flesh and of the Spirit, are instructed to be expecting and desiring that day.

 

[* See Acts 7: 5.]

 

"But the word of the report did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it."

 

"The word of the report" refers to the report brought to Israel by the twelve spies concerning the land of promise.  God had assured them that the land of His choice was a good one.  But they wished that spies should be sent into it, who should make a report* to them. The twelve spies, on returning, owned it to be a good land, "flowing with milk and honey," ĎBut the people were strong; the cities fortified, and giants dwelt thereí (Num. 13: 27, 28).  At that point the faith of Israel failed.  Their God could not bring them in, in the face of obstacles so great.  Thus they fell short of the hope of their calling.  But now God has raised up His Son as Leader of the people of the heavenly calling.  He has delivered them from perdition, from Satan and the world, by the blood of the Lamb: he has led many of them through the waters of baptism, and is feeding them with the spiritual manna.  The Lord Jesus raised up a new report, and twelve new spies in His twelve apostles, and He sent them forth with powers of miracle to bear witness of the coming age of glory.  The spies of old brought of the grapes, pomegranates, and figs of the land.  The land is good.  "This is the fruit of it."  The Lord Jesus sent His apostles to bestow on each believer some of these "powers of the age to come".  They were evidences how glorious and real those days of Messiah shall be.  Perhaps the expressions used by the Apostle, "tasting of the heavenly gift", and "tasting the good word of God", refer to the taste that some of Israel had of the fruits brought by the spies.  But as Israel then refused the report, so much more is the Gospel of the millennial kingdom refused now.

 

[* The ultimate provocation and exclusion ensued at once on the refusal of Godís report, and that of their own spies.] 

 

ĎHow came Israel, if there were so great a boon set before them, not to attain it?  Men are generally eager to sieze on any good presented to them

 

Through their unbelief - as God says: "How long will this people provoke Me? And how long will it be ere they believe Me, for all the signs which I have showed unto them?" (Num. 14: 11).

 

3. "For we believers* are entering into the rest, as [God] said, ĎSo I sware in My wrath, They shall not enter into My rest:í although the works from the foundation of the world had [already] been completed.  For He spake in a certain place concerning the seventh day thus ĎAnd God rested on the seventh day from all His works.í And in this place [He says] a second time, ĎThey shall not enter into My rest.í "

 

[* I do not think that any stress is to be laid on the participles being in the aorist. They might have been in the present. The aorist denotes that they had now for some time been believers.] 

 

The "for" with which the verse commences is connected with the word Ďfaithí in verse 2.  ĎThe Israelites lost the rest, as devoid of faith.  But we, as men of faith, are entering into it

 

The Established Version gives "do enter", as though the rest were something of habitual and present attainment by [regenerate] believers generally. Thus it confounds the sense, and the course of the Apostleís argument; who is proving the futurity and the external character of the rest to them who believe.  The present here is prospective.  It is illustrated for us, as previous points have been, by the history of the wilderness.  Up to the time when the tribes, through unbelief, were rejected by the oath of God, they were continually on the move toward the promised land.  So believers in the millennial glory are moving onward to Godís rest in that day.  For they, unlike Israel, mix faith with Godís testimony, and accept the new Ďreportí of Christ and His apostles.*

 

[* More and more regenerate believers are now rejecting the divine prophecies which must be literally fulfilled during the coming age, when Christís glory will be manifest upon this earth for 1,000 years.]

 

We should read: ĎWe believers are entering into the restí - the same rest as that which Israel of old lost through unbelief, and the oath of God.  As surely as unbelievers [A-Millennialists] are excluded, believers [ďcounted worthy to attain to that ageĒ, (Luke 20: 35)] shall enter.

 

"Although the works from the foundation of the world* had [already] taken place."

 

[* This is the order of the Greek; and it makes the sense more distinct.] 

 

The Apostle is now teaching us concerning the meaning of the phrase, "Godís rest".  The expression is used in Genesis 2: 2, of Godís repose from creation-works on the seventh day.  He notices, then, that of course that could not be the one into which we are invited, and toward which we are moving.  Both the work and the rest of that day ended ages ago: sin had not entered, and man had no part with God in that enjoyment of His finished works.  He sware, that unbelievers should have no part in His rest.  But how could they? The rest of the first Creation-Sabbath was long, long past. ĎWhy, Then, did Paul cite the passage?í  Because Godís creation-rest on the seventh day is typical of His redemption-rest on the seventh millennium yet to come.  Hence Paul quotes anew the passage from the psalm, and observes that the expression occurs a second time.  "They shall not enter into My rest."  The words are quoted to bring to notice, by way of contrast, the futurity of Godís rest there spoken of.  "If they shall enter." Here is a "second time" a similar expression.

 

Godís creation-work was speedily marred by Satan and by man. Could the Most High rest in a world of sin and death?  Impossible! He began, therefore, a new work of redemption, that the world and man might finally be set on the foundation of eternal repose; while unbelievers are eternally cast where no rest is to be had (Rev. 14: 9-11).  The psalm notices new "works" of God, to be succeeded, like those of creation, by a new "rest".  "They saw My works forty years."  "They shall not enter into My rest."  These new works of God are still proceeding; as our call to worship and to conflict, in the midst of an evil world, shows.  Still the tidings of salvation go forth, and still some are being brought over to Christ.  Since, then, both God and His people are at work, Godís [millennial] rest is not yet come.

 

His redeeming works were shown to Israel of old.  But these new "works" of Egypt and of the desert they understood not (3: 9).  For six thousand years nearly, God has been at work.  This Jesus testified to the unbelieving Jews.  They thought that their God must needs be resting in them and their observance of the Sabbath, with Divine complacency.  Our Lord calls this in question, by His frequent healing of diseased ones on the Sabbath.  To such, though they were circumcised men of the Law, and found at Jerusalem during the feasts, the Sabbaths of Moses brought no real rest.  Hence Jesus gives them a better rest.  And when He was reproved, because He was oft breaking the Sabbath day, He made answer in effect, that neither His Father nor Himself could rest on the Lawís day of rest: but they were both at work in grace to bring in what Law, as applied to man the sinner, could never effect (John 5: 17).

 

From these six thousand years of redemption-work God shall rest on the seventh thousand. As surely as a dayís rest followed on Godís six daysí work of creation, so surely shall the rest of a day follow on Godís six daysí redemption-work.  Only "Beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years" (2 Pet. 3: 8).  It is this which explains to us how God could be true, in saying to Adam: "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."  He did not die in the day of twenty-four hours: but he did die in the day of a thousand years.  And none of the antediluvian patriarchs lived a thousand years.

 

On this coming repose Moses is a constant witness.  (1) As soon as Noah, coming out of the ark on the new world, had offered his sacrifice, we read: "And Jehovah smelled a savour of rest" (Gen. 8: 21).  He owned, in that sacrifice, the ground on which another and a better earth shall rest eternally [millennially] on a better sacrifice, the sacrifice of Christ.  (2) As soon as He had redeemed His earthly people out of Egypt into the desert, at once He prepares for their resting on the seventh day from toil for food.  On the sixth day they are to gather, and He will supply, the food of two days - that they may rest the seventh.* (3) Then came the Law on Sinai; and Godís redeeming work is knit to His creation-work.  The fourth commandment testifies, that the God of creation is the God of Israel.  As Jehovah had wrought six days, and rested on the seventh, so were His ransomed to imitate Him, both in working and in resting with Him. But a sinner under the Law cannot rest with God, for his heart is alienated.

 

[* 'Sevení in Hebrew signifies Ďfulnessí.  ĎThe dispensation of the fulness of timeí is the seventh millennium yet to come (Eph. 1).] 

 

Under the Law, the Sabbath was the chief positive command, as in Eden was the prohibition of the tree of knowledge.  The observance of the Sabbath was firmly knit to Godís specially-redeemed people alone; it was a part of the covenant of Sinai (Exod. 31: 13-15).  God, and His people Israel, were to work and to rest together. Moreover, in the record of Genesis we read: "And God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it, because that in it He had rested from all His work."  These words look onward to another period, when God shall bless in redemption, and hallow the millennial day.  Like words and sentiments are affixed to the Sabbath of Moses. The Creator wrought six days, and rested the seventh day; "wherefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it" (Exod. 20: 11).  Israel, then, was to rest in Godís creation and redemption; to hallow the day, and God would bless them.  But Law brings in the man the sinner only unrest and death; and, on the footing of Law, God could not rest in man, nor man in God (Rom. 8: 7).  But the Sabbath of Moses looks onward to a future rest, which shall be blessed of God, and all who partake of it shall be blessed. There shall be a life and a reign with Christ, during the Sabbath-rest of a thousand years.  "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection ... They shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years" (Rev. 20: 4-6).  For Law could not make man to be king and priest, on the ground of his deservings before God.  But grace can; and the blood of the Son of God consecrates to this end.  Through his new creation by God, redeemed man can sympathize with Godís redemption-work, can with Him work in the day of labour, and with Him rest in the Sabbath to come.

How deeply this counsel of God was inwrought into the Law will be seen, on study of the subject of the Sabbath and its rest.  It signified Israelís redemption from slavery; and on it the workers of the Holy Land were to rest (Deut. 5: 12-14; Exod. 23: 12).  When Moses went up alone to meet God, amid the heavenly things, it is commanded again, and death is to be the penalty of its breach (Exod. 31: 13-17; Num. 15).  After the first covenant is broken, and the new one is ratified with Moses alone, the Sabbath reappears (Exod. 34: 21; 35: 1, 2).

 

The great festival of earth, of which the Feasts of the Law were memorials, is to be the fulfilment of the Feast of Tabernacles - the festival of the seventh month (Lev. 23), after the works of the harvest and the vintage were over.

 

The Law, then, has much instruction to give us on the subject of this future blessed Sabbath, which Law could not really bring in.

 

1. First, it teaches us often concerning the TIME of rest.  It is to be the seventh day.  The Lordís rest on that day hath consecrated it; and, in its appointed time, blessing will flow out of it.  "The Sabbath of rest, the holy convocation" of Godís approved ones, from the patriarchal, Mosaic, and Christian dispensations, shall in due season be held under Godís better Apostle and High Priest (Rev. 7).

 

2. (1.) It testifies concerning the PLACE of rest.  It shall be this earth, of which Abraham was made the heir (Rom. 4: 13).  There, where Godís rest was broken by sin, shall the Most High prevail to bring in true repose, and shall rejoice in His works.  The promises to Abraham, David, and the prophets, can only be fulfilled by resurrection.  "The habitable earth in its future state" (Ps. 8) is to be filled with the glory of Jehovah.

 

(2.) But there will be one portion of earth in which that rest and glory will be most visible.  The land of Palestine was promised to Abraham (Gen. 15).  And Christ is Abrahamís heir (Gal. 3: 15).  This glory shall be the Saviourís, as the reward of His sufferings.  In the land where He was slain, and in the city where He was crucified, shall His especial glory be.  "Ye are not come [says Moses in the desert] to the rest and the inheritance which the Lord your God giveth you" (Deut. 12: 9). No! it was to be in "the land of the promise."

 

(3.) And the centre of that blessing and the rest shall be: - Jerusalem and its temple - "the house of prayer for all nations".  The ark began to rest, when the king after Godís own heart was firmly seated on his throne (1 Chron. 6: 31). "I had [says David] in mine heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and for the footstool of our God" (1 Chron. 28: 2).

 

3. It teaches us also concerning the MEANS of the coming rest.  (1) The first and chief cause of all is Jehovahís self, the Giver of all good.  "My Presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest" (Exod. 33: 14).  (2) Sacrifices and priests were the means whereby the Holy God could dwell amidst the sinful.  Thus the "odour of rest" which God smelt in the sacrifice of Noah was intensified and established in the sacrifices of the Law.  "Command the children of Israel, and say unto them, My offering and bread for My sacrifices made by fire, for a savour of My rest [marg.] shall ye observe to offer unto Me in their due season" (Num. 28: 2).  This grateful odour is mentioned in reference to the burnt offering and the other kinds.*  Christ is to us the one offering which embraces all perfection.  He "gave Himself, for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour" (Eph. 5: 2).  And, observe also, in contrast with doctrines now in favour, that Jehovah commands, "for a drink-offering thou shalt offer the third part of a hin of wine, for a savour of rest unto the Lord" (Num. 15: 7, 10).

 

[* Our translators have put, a "sweet savour" instead of "a savour of rest." See LXX who translate the Hebrew expression.]

 

4. The King of Godís appointing was to be "a man of rest".  "Behold, a Son shall be born to thee [says God to David] who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies round about; for his name shall be Solomon peaceableí], and I will give peace and quietness to Israel in his days" (1 Chron. 22: 9).

 

5. "And in this place a second time: ĎIf they shall enter into My rest.í" 

 

An examination of the 95th. psalm, whence this passage is cited, will throw further light upon the argument.  It seems to be addressed to all the world.  There is a call to worship God, as Creator of the earth and man (ver. 5, 6).  God is showing Himself to be King (ver 3).  This, as we have learned, applies to Christ, Who is more than once in this Epistle described as Creator (3: 4).

 

Then comes the appeal to the listeners to Ďobey His voiceí, as the Redeemer.  "We are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand."  He is "our God" (ver. 7).  These expressions include both of Christís flocks.  Of Israel it is written: "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel" (Ps. 80: 1).  But Jesus is Shepherd of His saved ones now. "He that entereth in by the door is the Shepherd of the sheep" (John 10: 2).  And this Epistle celebrates the "Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the Sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant" (13: 20).

 

God shall surely rest from His work of salvation, and from His war against the earth in the last days.  The only question is: Who shall rest with Him?  For multitudes of [regenerate] believers shall be saved eternally in the new heaven and earth, who will fail of reward in the transition-period of the thousand years.  For they do not work and rest with God, nor can God feel complacency in them.

 

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