Foundations: “The Sabbath” (Part Two) — Hebrews 3:7b-4:13 — Todd Braye

Introduction

Todd BrayeToday we press on in our studies on the Sabbath. To that end I invite you to open your bibles to Hebrews 3:7. The full text is Heb 3:7b – 4:13. We won’t get through all of it today. But I hope that what we do accomplish this morning will set the stage for next week. Hebrews 3:7b – 4:13. Hear then the precious and inerrant word of God:

A Rest for the People of God

“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’ ”

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked 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 unable to enter because of unbelief.

4 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, 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 somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this passage he said,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. [i]

The Immediacy of God’s Word

Foundational to the God of the Bible is the fact that God has revealed Himself verbally. That God speaks, that He has spoken, is also a truth undergirding Hebrews to this point. It is the subject with which the writer begins in the very first chapter first verse.  “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,” he states. Evidently then, those addressed have Jewish roots. Those addressed are physical descendants of Abraham. Their heritage is therefore a rich one, one defined by a wealth of divine speech. God spoke to their fathers by way of the prophets. But now “in these last days,” the writer tells us that, in contrast to “Long ago” when God spoke through the prophets,  “God has spoken to us by His Son.” Christ, in other words, is God’s final word. And as God’s final word, Christ is the decisive word.

But in contrast to “God spoke” and “he has spoken” is “Today, if you hear his voice.” The word ‘Today’ speaks of the immediacy, if not urgency, of God’s Word. In these two chapters the phrase “Today, if you hear his voice” is repeated three times:  “Today, if you hear his voice.” “Today, if you hear his voice.” “Today, if you hear his voice.”  God spoke. He has spoken. And as long as it is called “Today,” God still speaks. How He does so is made abundantly clear to us here. All one has to do is notice the introductory phrase in verse 7a: “Therefore, the Holy Spirit says.” And what the Spirit says is what’s recorded for us in the Scripture; in this case Psalm 95:7-11. The Spirit of God never speaks divorced from the written Word of God. What is before us is therefore pressed upon us. This is for our benefit as the professing people of God.  Psalm 95 was written ages ago, but may it not fall on deaf ears today.

The Receptivity of Our Response

The immediacy of God’s Word is followed by the receptivity of our response. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…” That is God’s will for us, brethren. It is God’s will for us everyday. If we hear His voice, we need to receive it, not harden ourselves to it. It should not escape our notice this is not evangelistic. Evangelism is not in view here. Nor is it the author’s concern. His concern is for the professing people of God. We have only to pay attention to the context to see this. In chapter 3 verse 1, the author calls those to whom he writes “holy brothers,” those “who share in a heavenly calling.” He calls them brothers in 3:14. In the previous chapter, in chapter 2 verse 1, he admonishes his brothers to pay much closer attention to what they had heard, namely God’s Word spoken through His Final Word regarding His finished work, “lest they drift away from it.”  Further, the second verse of chapter four makes it more than obvious evangelism isn’t here. It says “For good news came to us…” The Word of the gospel had already been preached to them. Consequently, these words are aimed not at those outside the church, but those inside.

Obviously then, we who call ourselves Christians have need of guarding ourselves against hard-heartedness in the face of God’s Word, even His Final Word. Even though we may find ourselves amongst God’s chosen, having a faith in God, a stubborn refusal to believe the truth & submit to it is not outside the realm of possibility. One either hears as to believe and obey, or he will hear and disregard. Both responses occur within the company of God’s people. But a sensitive and receptive heart, moved to actual obedience is the heart of God’s true people.

An Example of Rebellion

The immediacy of God’s Word, the receptivity of our response: next is an example of rebellion. Israel, that is, the nation of Israel, the Old Covenant people of God, is that example. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness when your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years…” The historical referent to this is of course the exodus. By a glorious display of awesome power, God redeems Israel from Egypt (not from sin, from Egypt). Exodus 14: The Red Sea. Exodus 15: Israel sings God’s praises. Exodus 16: Israel grumbles. In the first several verses of Exodus 16, there are nine (9) references to grumbling. The whole of Israel grumbled against its leadership. Why they did so was nothing short of unbelief. The immediate issue was food and hunger. Wishing to return to the “good old days” of Egypt, forgetting their hardship, they questioned the integrity and even motivation of its leadership. Exodus 16, commencing with verse 3:

…the people of Israel said to them {Moses & Aaron}, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” 4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.[ii]

And of course, they did not. They disobeyed the instruction to eat the entire day’s portion and leave no left- overs. Exodus 14: The Red Sea. Exodus 15: Israel sings. Exodus 16: Israel grumbles and disobeys. Exodus 17:

17 All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” [1]

Exodus 14: The Red Sea. Exodus 15: Israel joyfully sings. Exodus 16: Israel grumbles and disobeys. Exodus 17: Israel grumbles, tests God, and doubts Him. And then the big one, when Israel refused to enter the Promised Land, the land of Canaan. You recall the history. Men were chosen and sent to spy out the land. After 40 days, they returned with their report. They spoke of a land flowing with milk and honey. However, the cities were fortified and large, the men were big and strong, and Israel’s enemies lived there.  Caleb goes to Moses and says, in effect, “Let’s go!’ “Let’s go over and occupy the land. We can do it!’ But (Numbers 13),

“…the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” 32 So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” 14 Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2 And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” [iii]

The reason for the land was a promise. God had promised Abraham to give his offspring a land. And here we see the first exodus generation refusing that promise, why? Moses tells us in Deuteronomy 1 beginning in the 25th verse:

And they took in their hands some of the fruit of the land and brought it down to us, and brought us word again and said, ‘It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.’

26 “Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. 27 And you murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. 28 Where are we going up? Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.” ’ 29 Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. 30 The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, 31 and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ 32 Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God…” [iv]

Again, the Psalmist, recounting this, elsewhere writes these words:

Then they despised the pleasant land, having no faith in his promise. They murmured in their tents, and did not obey the voice of the Lord” (Ps. 106:25).

I belabor this because this is so foundational. This is so basic to the argument and the admonition of Hebrews 3 and 4. God delivered Israel from Pharaoh, placing them on a trajectory that would see them enjoy the fullness of the blessings of a rich land. This place, this land was the goal of the exodus…and Israel, that first generation, because of unbelief, did not reach it.

The Consequence of Unbelief

The immediacy of God’s Word, the receptivity of our response, an example of rebellion: and finally the consequence of unbelief. Verses 10 and 11 tell us God was provoked to wrath with that generation. Though they were the physical offspring and children of Abraham, the chosen of God, presumably wearing the sign of the covenant, God swore in His anger that that generation, that wicked generation as He calls them, would not enter what was promised! Therefore,” says God, “I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’11As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’[v] The corresponding text to this is Numbers 14:30. It states the following: “No one shall come into the land … except Caleb…and Joshua…” Why David, the Psalmist, changes “land” to “rest” is reason for consideration. Number one: By the time David wrote Psalm 95, Joshua had led the second generation into the land.  Joshua 21:43-45 states:

43 Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.”[vi]

God gave Israel the land. Israel got their land. God was faithful. His promise came to pass. Therefore, number two, the ‘rest’ of which David speaks in Psalm 95 must be a different ‘rest’ in a different place for a different people, namely those of God’s house. Who is that house? WE are His house “IF indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts! Psalm 95 is a warning to us. Let us be warned this day. God swore in His wrath that those who harden their hearts to His voice shall not enter His rest.

The Exhortation to Care

Therefore, take care, brothers, lest there be in any one of us an evil, unbelieving heart, leading us to fall away from the living God! This is the concern of the text, even of Hebrews. Apostasy, falling away from God, unfaithfulness, drifting away from the gospel: we must, as a church, as a fellowship, as a family, see to it that these things do not happen amongst us.  Instead, look at what we are to do. Verse 13: “But exhort one another, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” There is so much here to unpack. But we can’t do that today. But do not let it escape your notice that everyone, not just the leadership, is called into action here. Exhortation that none be hardened is the responsibility of all in the house. “Exhort one another!” It is a biblical church that engages in mutual exhortation. The most loving, caring thing a church can do is exhort that none be hardened and fall away from the living God. Oh may we never forget that the church is not a club. It is not a place to be entertained for a couple hours on Sunday if there’s nothing better to do. It’s all too easy to play church. It’s all too easy to go through the motions and not be involved in each other’s lives, or simply talk small talk. Exhortation isn’t small talk… But what is it to exhort? What is exhortation? Exhortation is sometimes pleading, urging, sometimes encouraging, sometimes consoling, sometimes warning, and sometimes reproving, according to the need of the moment and with speech seasoned, even dripping, with grace.

The ground given for this exhorting is made explicit in the 17th verse. Look at it closely. It says, “For we share in Christ, IF indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”  This makes perseverance a matter of life and death. True faith is tethered to not drifting from the truth and falling away, but enduring in both faith and faithfulness. Do those truly in Christ fall away? No they do not. They persevere in faith to the end. But only those who so persevere share in Christ. We share in Christ, IF we hold on to the end in persevering faith. It isn’t enough to receive the gospel evidently. It isn’t enough to receive the truth of Christ and the cross; one must hold on to it, keep it, and “retain it unshakably.”[vii]

So again Hebrews exhorts us:

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion. For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked 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 unable to enter because of unbelief.”[viii]

Hebrews urges us and pleads with us to not be like that generation of God’s people. Don’t be like them. Be the opposite of them. Don’t harden your hearts when God speaks in His Word. Do not miss one thing here. Do not miss the connection made in verses 18 and 19 between disobedience and unbelief. Verse 18 says: “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 unable to enter because of unbelief.” So, which is it? Did disobedience prevent them or did unbelief? There is a relationship of cause and effect here. We need to understand this for many reasons, one of which is to see ourselves and judge our faith rightly. There are two kinds of faith: true and false. And if we understand the cause and effect here, we will be better equipped to make a sober examination of our faith.  So, what’s the relationship?  Notice the end of verse 19 and the phrase “because of unbelief.” That’s the cause. The exodus generation, “those who were disobedient” (verse 18) did not enter the land because they did not believe God’s promise.  Unbelief is the cause. Disobedience is the result or the manifestation or the fruit of unbelief. Unbelief begets disobedience. Disobedience is the expression of unbelief. Conversely therefore, faith begets obedience.  Had the first generation believed God, they would’ve invaded Canaan. But they disobeyed because they were wrought with unbelief.  Where there is disobedience there is disbelief. Remember that the next time Mr. Temptation lies to you. Unbelief begets disobedience. But believing begets obedience.

Such is the context if not foundation upon which the writer to the Hebrews is about to speak of a Sabbath rest remaining for the people of God. We will go no further today. Today it enough to hear the exhortation, “If you hear his voice do not harden your hearts” as they did, incurring the wrath of God, not entering that which was promised them because of unbelief manifested by disobedience. It is enough to hear that there was a generation of God’s people in redemptive history that forfeited the goal and consummation of its redemption. It is enough to be jarred by these things. O might we be jarred by these things! God doesn’t play games! He will not be mocked! Let us pray that we sense the urgency of the opening verses of chapter 4: “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still remains, let us fear lest any of [us] should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them…”


[1] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ex 17:1–7). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[i] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Heb 3:7–4:13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[ii] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ex 16:3–4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[iii] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Nu 13:31–14:4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[iv] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Dt 1:25–32). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[v] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Heb 3:10–11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[vi] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Jos 21:43–45). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[vii] C. Spicq

[viii] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Heb 3:16–19). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.