Wednesday, May 7, 2014

In Search Of Truth, Hebrews 4:1-13

In previous verses, the author warns his readers not to be like the Israelites who left Egypt with Moses. They hardened themselves against God and failed to enter God's "rest" as a result. The warning continues in these verses and the idea of "rest" is explored and applied to a greater degree.

Some commentators continue to unconsciously replace the word "rest" in this passage with "justification" or "eternal life", as though "rest" here refers to one of these ideas. But it seems to be more consistent with the context and the rest of scripture if "rest" is treated as "rest"(surprise!), and applied flexibly, in accordance with context, much like the Greek word for "salvation" should be treated.


The author warns readers not to harden themselves against God, but to instead reach for the promise of his rest.

A kind of "gospel" ("good news") came to the ancient Israelites. Broadly speaking, that good news was that God cared for them and wanted to rescue them and deliver them to a place where they would have peace and rest from their labor and oppression.

But rather than trust God to lead them to this rest and relief, they largely rebelled, refusing to unite with those few, such as Joshua and Caleb, who chose to trust in the promise of God's rest.


In verse 2 the author states that the Israelites did not enter the promised land of rest because they did not trust Yahweh ("were not united by faith with those who listened"). Verse 3 teaches by contrast that those who do trust Yahweh will enter that rest (but only seems to use the material from Psalm 95 to reinforce the alternative to trusting Yahweh).

The author also states that God's rest began well before the exodus of the Israelites. His works "were finished from the foundation of the world". He supports this by referring readers to the Genesis account of creation, which tells us that God rested on the seventh day.

What's interesting to note is that the seventh creation day in Genesis chapter 2 does not include the phrase "and there was evening and morning", as the previous six day descriptions do. Many scholars conclude that the seventh "creation day" is actually still going on right now, and that God (creatively speaking) continues in a kind of rest until the creation of the New Heaven and New Earth. (Revelation 21:1)

This being the case, when God says "my rest", he doesn't just mean a rest he is providing. It's a rest he himself is participating in that he invites us to join. (An idea also consistent with the "partnership" concept of Hebrews 3:14.) We're invited to join Yahweh in both his work and his rest.


The author makes the case here that the Israelites never fully entered into the rest Yahweh offered them. The implication of Psalm 95, written long after the Exodus, is that there is a kind of rest remaining that can be entered into. And the author of Hebrews teaches that the offer to enter this rest still stands.

There is a clear "present tense" element to this rest. It is something that can be experienced now. And given that the invitation to this rest is paired so closely in Hebrews with the invitation to join in the "household affairs" of God, it seems that this "rest" is surprisingly experienced while we serve Jesus.

Jesus himself describes this kind of "rest amidst work" in Matthew 11:28-30.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (ESV)

The implication seems to be that we are able to rest from our efforts to get on God's "good side" or earn  his favor, something even those of us who have been believers for years can still find ourselves doing.

We can rest now from any obligation to prove our own value or significance. We're still meant to take on the yoke of Jesus and learn from him. We're still meant to be a part of his household affairs. But our efforts no longer need to be burdened by frustration when we fail or fall short. Our "rest" comes from knowing that God's rescue plan can't be thwarted, either intentionally by those opposing God or accidentally by those following him.

There is also a "future tense" element to this "rest", implied by the tense of verse 9 and the unique Greek word the author momentarily switches to for "Sabbath-rest"(which is used nowhere else in scripture). It seems this promised present-tense rest will culminate in a further kind of rest that has something in common with the Old Testament Sabbath day (perhaps in the sense of additional celebration of, and focus on, Yahweh).


So how do we "strive to enter that rest" in the meantime? In pursuit of, and in submission to, the truth that God has verbally revealed. His "word".

At some point in the future we will give an accurate account of our lives to Jesus, and the word he has revealed will be the measuring stick. We know that there is "no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus"(Romans 8:1), but the additional reward and blessing we receive from him on that day will be in direct proportion to how we responded to his revealed word throughout our day to day lives.

I think as geeks we can respond to this passage right now by asking ourselves, "Am I caught up in efforts to make good impressions or gain significance? Do I give so much weight to the opinions of others that I'm weighed down by insecurity? Am I laboring to define myself and ignoring the fact that Yahweh has defined me already?"

I can frequently answer yes to all of those uncomfortable questions. My default mode involves the stressful pursuit of justifying my worth to people, to God and to his kingdom plans. And when I'm in that mode I feel more insecure and defensive, more unfulfilled and more frustrated. The more weight I give the opinions others have of me, the more draining and difficult it is for me to spend time with people in general.

But I've begun noticing that when my mind is in the right place, engaging in the household affairs God has for me in the moment, when I'm trusting that his love, and not my efforts or attributes, rescues me and gives me worth, I'm more emotionally at ease and more useful to other believers in my life.

My mind is not in the right place near as often as I'd like. I'd invite you to join me in striving to take the truths of God that we may only hold at a comfortable intellectual distance, and bring them near to the heart, choosing to trust in what God has revealed about himself and about us. I'm convinced that kind of "striving" is an easier yoke, and a lighter burden that increasingly brings us to the rest and relief we're aching for.

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