Adam Clarke Commentary
As the Christian rest is to be obtained by faith, we should beware of unbelief lest we lose it, as the Hebrews did theirs, Hebrews 4:1. The reason why they were not brought into the rest promised to them, Hebrews 4:2. The rest promised to the Hebrews was a type of that promised to Christians, Hebrews 4:3-10. Into this rest we should earnestly labor to enter, Hebrews 4:11. A description of the word of God, Hebrews 4:12, Hebrews 4:13. Jesus is our sympathetic High Priest, Hebrews 4:15. Through him we have confidence to come to God, Hebrews 4:16.
Let us therefore fear - Seeing the Israelites lost the rest of Canaan, through obstinacy and unbelief, let us be afraid lest we come short of the heavenly rest, through the same cause.
Should seem to come short of it - Lest any of us should actually come short of it; i.e. miss it. See the note on the verb δοκειν , to seem, Luke 8:18 (note). What the apostle had said before, relative to the rest, might be considered as an allegory; here he explains and applies that allegory, showing that Canaan was a type of the grand privileges of the Gospel of Christ, and of the glorious eternity to which they lead.
Come short - The verb ὑστερειν is applied here metaphorically; it is an allusion, of which there are many in this epistle, to the races in the Grecian games: he that came short was he who was any distance, no matter how small, behind the winner. Will it avail any of us how near we get to heaven, if the door be shut before we arrive? How dreadful the thought, to have only missed being eternally saved! To run well, and yet to permit the devil, the world, or the flesh, to hinder in the few last steps! Reader, watch and be sober.
For unto us was the Gospel preached - Και γαρ εσμεν ευηγγελισμενοι· For we also have received good tidings as well as they. They had a gracious promise of entering into an earthly rest; we have a gracious promise of entering into a heavenly rest. God gave them every requisite advantage; he has done the same to us. Moses and the elders spoke the word of God plainly and forcibly to them: Christ and his apostles have done the same to us. They might have persevered; so may we: they disbelieved, disobeyed, and fell: and so may we.
But the word preached did not profit them - Αλλ ουκ ωφελησεν ὁ λογος της ακοης εκεινους· But the word of hearing did not profit them. The word and promise to which the apostle most probably refers is that in Deuteronomy 1:20, Deuteronomy 1:21: Ye are come unto to the mountain of the Amorites, which the Lord our God doth give unto to us. Behold, the Lord thy God hath set the land before thee; go up and possess it, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath said unto thee: fear not. Many exhortations they had to the following effect: Arise, that we may go up against them; for we have seen the land, and, behold, it is very good: and are ye still? Be not slothful to go, and to enter to possess the land; for God hath given it into your hands; a place where there is no want of any thing that is in the earth; Judges 18:9, Judges 18:10. But instead of attending to the word of the Lord by Moses, the whole congregation murmured against him and Aaron, and said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt; Numbers 14:2, Numbers 14:4. But they were dastardly through all their generations. They spoke evil of the pleasant land, and did not give credence to his word. Their minds had been debased by their Egyptian bondage, and they scarcely ever arose to a state of mental nobility.
Not being mixed with faith in them that heard - There are several various readings in this verse, and some of them important. The principal are on the word συγκεκραμενος , mixed; which in the common text refers to ὁ λογος , the word mixed; but, in ABCD and several others, it is συγκεκραμενους , referring to, and agreeing with, εκεινους , and may be thus translated: The word of hearing did not profit them, they not being mixed with those who heard it by faith. That is, they were not of the same spirit with Joshua and Caleb. There are other variations, but of less importance; but the common text seems best.
For we which have believed do enter into rest - The great spiritual blessings, the forerunners of eternal glory, which were all typified by that earthly rest or felicity promised to the ancient Israelites, we Christians do, by believing in Christ Jesus, actually possess. We have peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Ghost; are saved from the guilt and power of sin; and thus enjoy an inward rest.
From the foundation of the world - The foundation of the world, καταβολη κοσμου , means the completion of the work of creation in six days. In those days was the world, i.e. the whole system of mundane things, begun and perfected; and this appears to be the sense of the expression in this place.
For he spake in a certain place - This certain place or somewhere, που , is probably Genesis 2:2; and refers to the completion of the work of creation, and the setting apart the seventh day as a day of rest for man, and a type of everlasting felicity. See the notes on Genesis 2:1, etc., and See here Hebrews 2:6 (note).
And in this place again - In the ninety-fifth Psalm, already quoted, Psalm 95:3. This was a second rest which the Lord promised to the believing, obedient seed of Abraham; and as it was spoken of in the days of David, when the Jews actually possessed this long promised Canaan, therefore it is evident that that was not the rest which God intended, as the next verse shows.
It remaineth that some must enter therein - Why our translators put in the word must here I cannot even conjecture. I hope it was not to serve a system, as some have since used it: “Some must go to heaven, for so is the doctrine of the decree; and there must be certain persons infallibly brought thither as a reward to Christ for his sufferings; and in this the will of man and free agency can have no part,” etc, etc. Now, supposing that even all this was true, yet it does not exist either positively or by implication in the text. The words επει ουν απολειπεται τινας εισελθειν εις αυτην , literally translated, are as follows: Seeing then it remaineth for some to enter into it; or, Whereas therefore it remaineth that some enter into it, which is Dr. Owen‘s translation, and they to whom it was first preached ( οἱ προτερον ευαγγελισθεντες , they to whom the promise was given; they who first received the good tidings; i.e., the Israelites, to whom was given the promise of entering into the rest of Canaan) did not enter in because of their unbelief; and the promise still continued to be repeated even in the days of David; therefore, some other rest must be intended.
He limiteth a certain day - The term day signifies not only time in general, but also present time, and a particular space. Day here seems to have the same meaning as rest in some other parts of this verse. The day or time of rest relative to the ancient Jews being over and past, and a long time having elapsed between God‘s displeasure shown to the disobedient Jews in the wilderness and the days of David, and the true rest not having been enjoyed, God in his mercy has instituted another day - has given another dispensation of mercy and goodness by Christ Jesus; and now it may be said, as formerly, To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. God speaks now as he spoke before; his voice is in the Gospel as it was in the law. Believe, love, obey, and ye shall enter into this rest.
For if Jesus had given them rest - It is truly surprising that our translators should have rendered the Ιησους of the text Jesus, and not Joshua, who is most clearly intended. They must have known that the יהושע (Yehoshua) of the Hebrew, which we write Joshua, is everywhere rendered Ιησους , Jesus, by the Septuagint; and it is their reading which the apostle follows. It is true the Septuagint generally write Ιησους Ναυη , or Υἱος Ναυη , Jesus Nave, or Jesus, son of Nave, for it is thus they translate יהושע בן נון (Yehoshua ben Nun), Joshua the son of Nun; and this is sufficient to distinguish it from Jesus, son of David. But as Joshua, the captain general of Israel, is above intended, the word should have been written Joshua, and not Jesus. One MS., merely to prevent the wrong application of the name, has Ιησους ὁ του Ναυη , Jesus the son of Nave. Theodoret has the same in his comment, and one Syriac version has it in the text. It is Joshua in Coverdale‘s Testament, 1535; in Tindal‘s 1548; in that edited by Edmund Becke, 1549; in Richard Cardmarden‘s, Rouen, 1565; several modern translators, Wesley, Macknight, Wakefield, etc., read Joshua, as does our own in the margin. What a pity it had not been in the text, as all the smaller Bibles have no marginal readings, and many simple people are bewildered with the expression.
There, remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God - It was not,
1.The rest of the Sabbath; it was not,
2.The rest in the promised land,
for the psalmist wrote long after the days of Joshua; therefore there is another rest, a state of blessedness, for the people of God; and this is the Gospel, the blessings it procures and communicates, and the eternal glory which it prepares for, and has promised to, genuine believers.
For he that is entered into his rest - The man who has believed in Christ Jesus has entered into his rest; the state of happiness which he has provided, and which is the forerunner of eternal glory.
Hath ceased from his own works - No longer depends on the observance of Mosaic rites and ceremonies for his justification and final happiness. He rests from all these works of the law as fully as God has rested from his works of creation.
Let us labor therefore - The word σπουδασωμεν implies every exertion of body and mind which can be made in reference to the subject. Rebus aliis omissis, hoc agamus; All things else omitted, this one thing let us do. We receive grace, improve grace, retain grace, that we may obtain eternal glory.
Lest any man fall - Lest he fall off from the grace of God, from the Gospel and its blessings, and perish everlastingly. This is the meaning of the apostle, who never supposed that a man might not make final shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience, as long as he was in a state of probation.
For the word of God is quick, and powerful - Commentators are greatly divided concerning the meaning of the phrase Ὁ λογος τον Θεου , the word of God; some supposing the whole of Divine revelation to be intended; others, the doctrine of the Gospel faithfully preached; others, the mind of God or the Divine intellect; and others, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is thus denominated in John 1:1, etc., and Revelation 19:13; the only places in which he is thus incontestably characterized in the New Testament. The disputed text, 1 John 5:7, I leave at present out of the question. In the introduction to this epistle I have produced sufficient evidence to make it very probable that St. Paul was the author of this epistle. In this sentiment the most eminent scholars and critics are now agreed. That Jesus Christ, the eternal, uncreated Word, is not meant here, is more than probable from this consideration, that St. Paul, in no part of his thirteen acknowledged epistles, ever thus denominates our blessed Lord; nor is he thus denominated by any other of the New Testament writers except St. John. Dr. Owen has endeavored to prove the contrary, but I believe to no man‘s conviction who was able to examine and judge of the subject. He has not been able to find more than two texts which even appeared to look his way. The first is, Luke 1:2: Us, which - were eye witnesses, and ministers του λογου , of the word; where it is evident the whole of our Lord‘s ministry is intended. The second is, Acts 20:32: I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace; where nothing but the gracious doctrine of salvation by faith, the influence of the Divine Spirit, etc., etc., can be meant: nor is there any legitimate mode of construction with which I am acquainted, by which the words in either place can be personally applied to our Lord. That the phrase was applied to denominate the second subsistence in the glorious Trinity, by Philo and the rabbinical writers, I have already proved in my notes on John 1, where such observations are alone applicable.
1.Because St. Paul does not use that term to express the Son of God.
2.Because the conjunction γαρ , for, shows that this verse is an inference drawn from the preceding, where the subject in question is concerning the eternal rest, and the means by which it is to be obtained.
It is therefore more natural to explain the term of the word, order, and will of God, for the Hebrews represent the revelation of God as an active being, living, all-powerful, illumined, executing vengeance, discerning and penetrating all things. Thus The Wisdom of Solomon 16:26: ‹Thy children, O Lord, know that it is not the growing of fruits that nourisheth man, but that it is thy word that preserveth them that put their trust in thee.‘ See Deuteronomy 8:3. That is, the sacred Scriptures point out and appoint all the means of life. Again, speaking of the Hebrews who were bitten with the fiery serpents, the same writer says, 16:12: ‹For it was neither herb nor mollifying plaster that restored them to health, but thy word, O Lord, which healeth all things;‘ i.e. which describes and prescribes the means of healing. And it is very likely that the purpose of God, sending the destroying angel to slay the firstborn in Egypt is intended by the same expression, The Wisdom of Solomon 18:15, 16: ‹Thine almighty word leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne, as a fierce man of war into a land of destruction, and brought thine unfeigned commandment as a sharp sword, and, standing up, filled all things with death.‘ This however may be applied to the eternal Logos, or uncreated Word.
Is a discerner of the thoughts - Και κριτικος ενθυμησεων και εννοιων καρδιας· Is a critic of the propensities and suggestions of the heart. How many have felt this property of God‘s word where it has been faithfully preached! How often has it happened that a man has seen the whole of his own character, and some of the most private transactions of his life, held up as it were to public view by the preacher; and yet the parties absolutely unknown to each other! Some, thus exhibited, have even supposed that their neighbors must have privately informed the preacher of their character and conduct; but it was the word of God, which, by the direction and energy of the Divine Spirit, thus searched them out, was a critical examiner of the propensities and suggestions of their hearts, and had pursued them through all their public haunts and private ways. Every genuine minister of the Gospel has witnessed such effects as these under his ministry in repeated instances.
Neither is there any creature that is not manifest - God, from whom this word comes, and by whom it has all its efficacy, is infinitely wise. He well knew how to construct his word, so as to suit it to the state of all hearts; and he has given it that infinite fullness of meaning, so as to suit it to all cases. And so infinite is he in his knowledge, and so omnipresent is he, that the whole creation is constantly exposed to his view; nor is there a creature of the affections, mind, or imagination, that is not constantly under his eye. He marks every rising thought, every budding desire; and such as these are supposed to be the creatures to which the apostle particularly refers, and which are called, in the preceding verse, the propensities and suggestions of the heart.
But all things are naked and opened - Παντα δε γυμνα και τετραχηλισμενα . It has been supposed that the phraseology here is sacrificial, the apostle referring to the case, of slaying and preparing a victim to be offered to God.
1.It is slain;
2.It is flayed, so it is naked;
5.It is divided exactly into two equal parts, by being split down the chine from the nose to the rump; and so exactly was this performed, that the spinal marrow was cloven down the center, one half lying in the divided cavity of each side of the backbone. This is probably the metaphor in 2 Timothy 2:15 (note).
But there is reason to suspect that this is not the metaphor here. The verb τραχηλιζω , from which the apostle‘s τετραχηλισμενα comes, signifies to have the neck bent back so as to expose the face to full view, that every feature might be seen; and this was often done with criminals, in order that they might be the better recognized and ascertained. To this custom Pliny refers in the very elegant and important panegyric which he delivered on the Emperor Trajan, about a.d. 103, when the emperor had made him consul; where, speaking of the great attention which Trajan paid to the public morals, and the care he took to extirpate informers, etc., he says: Nihil tamen gratius, nihil saeculo dignius, quam quod contigit desuper intueri delatorum supina ora, retortasque cervices. Agnoscebamus et fruebamur, cum velut piaculares publicae sollicitudinis victimae, supra sanguinem noxiorum ad lenta supplicia gravioresque poenas ducerentur. Plin. Paneg., cap. 34. “There is nothing, however, in this age which affects us more pleasingly, nothing more deservedly, than to behold from above the supine faces and reverted necks of the informers. We thus knew them, and were gratified when, as expiatory victims of the public disquietude, they were led away to lingering punishments, and sufferings more terrible than even the blood of the guilty.”
With whom we have to do - Προς ὁν ἡμιν ὁ λογος· To whom we must give an account. He is our Judge, and is well qualified to be so, as all our hearts and actions are naked and open to him.
Seeing then that we have a great high priest - It is contended, and very properly, that the particle ουν , which we translate seeing, as if what followed was an immediate inference from what the apostle had been speaking, should be translated now; for the apostle, though he had before mentioned Christ as the High Priest of our profession, Hebrews 3:1, and as the High Priest who made reconciliation for the sins of the people, Hebrews 2:17, does not attempt to prove this in any of the preceding chapters, but now enters upon that point, and discusses it at great length to the end of chap. 10.
1.That Christ is greater than the angels.
2.That he is greater than Moses.
3.That he is greater than Aaron, and all high priests.
The two former arguments, with their applications and illustrations, he has already despatched; and now he enters on the third. See the preface to this epistle.
1.That we have a high priest.
2.That this high priest is Jesus, the Son of God; not a son or descendant of Aaron, nor coming in that way, but in a more transcendent line.
1.He left the congregation of the people.
1.Left the people at large.
For we have not a high priest - To the objection, “Your High Priest, if entered into the heavens, can have no participation with you, and no sympathy for you, because out of the reach of human feelings and infirmities,” he answers: Ου γαρ εχομεν Αρχιερεα μη δυναμενον συμπαθησαι ταις ασθενειαις ἡμων· We have not a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness. Though he be the Son of God, as to his human nature, and equal in his Divine nature with God; yet, having partaken of human nature, and having submitted to all its trials and distresses, and being in all points tempted like as we are, without feeling or consenting to sin; he is able to succor them that are tempted. See Hebrews 2:18, and the note there.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace - The allusion to the high priest, and his office on the day of atonement, is here kept up. The approach mentioned here is to the כפרת (kapporeth), ἱλαστηριον , the propitiatory or mercy-seat. This was the covering of the ark of the testimony or covenant, at each end of which was a cherub, and between them the shechinah, or symbol of the Divine Majesty, which appeared to, and conversed with, the high priest. Here the apostle shows the great superiority of the privileges of the new testament above those of the old; for there the high priest only, and he with fear and trembling, was permitted to approach; and that not without the blood of the victim; and if in any thing he transgressed, he might expect to be struck with death. The throne of grace in heaven answers to this propitiatory, but to this All may approach who feel their need of salvation; and they may approach μετα παρῥησιας , with freedom, confidence, liberty of speech, in opposition to the fear and trembling of the Jewish high priest. Here, nothing is to be feared, provided the heart be right with God, truly sincere, and trusting alone in the sacrificial blood.
That we may obtain mercy - Ἱνα λαβωμεν ελεον· That we may take mercy - that we may receive the pardon of all our sins; there is mercy for the taking. As Jesus Christ tasted death for every man, so every man may go to that propitiatory, and take the mercy that is suited to his degree of guilt.
And find grace - Mercy refers to the pardon of sin, and being brought into the favor of God. Grace is that by which the soul is supported after it has received this mercy, and by which it is purified from all unrighteousness, and upheld in all trials and difficulties, and enabled to prove faithful unto death.
To help in time of need - Εις ευκαιρον βοηθειαν· For a seasonable support; that is, support when necessary, and as necessary, and in due proportion to the necessity. The word βονθεια is properly rendered assistance, help, or support; but it is an assistance in consequence of the earnest cry of the person in distress, for the word signifies to run at the cry, θειν εις βοην , or επι βοην θειν . So, even at the throne of grace, or great propitiatory, no help can be expected where there is no cry, and where there is no cry there is no felt necessity; for he that feels he is perishing will cry aloud for help, and to such a cry the compassionate High Priest will run; and the time of need is the time in which God will show mercy; nor will he ever delay it when it is necessary. We are not to cry to-day to be helped to-morrow, or at some indefinite time, or at the hour of death. We are to call for mercy and grace when we need them; and we are to expect to receive them when we call. This is a part of our liberty or boldness; we come up to the throne, and we call aloud for mercy, and God hears and dispenses the blessing we need.
1.That there is a throne of grace, i.e. a propitiatory, the place where God and man are to meet.
2.That this propitiatory or mercy-seat is sprinkled with the atoning blood of that Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.
8.All these are reasons why we should persevere.
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