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Bible Commentaries

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Hebrews 4




Analysis Of The Chapter

This chapter Hebrews 4:1-13, the apostle pursues and completes the exhortation which he had commenced in the previous chapter, drawn from the comparison of the Saviour with Moses (see the analysis of Hebrews 4:14-16, he enters on the consideration of the character of Christ as a high priest, which is pursued to the end of the doctrinal part of the Epistle.

In the first part Hebrews 4:1-13, he describes more at length the character of the “rest” to which he had referred in the previous chapter Hebrews 4:1, that the promise of a “rest” yet remains, and that there is still danger, as there was formerly, of coming short of it, or of losing it. He affirms that such was the nature of that promise, that it is applicable to us as well as to those to whom it was first made, and that the promise of rest as really pertains to Christians now as it did to the Hebrews of old; Hebrews 4:2. The reason, he adds, Hebrews 4:2, why “they” did not enter into that rest was, that they had not faith. This he had established in the previous chapter, yer. 18. In Hebrews 4:3-6, he proceeds to demonstrate more at length that there is a rest remaining for those who believe. The great object in this part of the chapter is to prove that a “rest” remains for believers now; a rest of a spiritual character, and much more desirable than that of the land of Canaan; a rest to which Christians may look forward, and which there may be danger of losing.

Addressing Hebrew Christians, he, of course, appeals to the Old Testament, and refers to several places where the word “rest” occurs, and argues that those expressions are of such a character as to show that there remains a “rest” for Christians yet. It would have been easy to have “affirmed” this as a part of the Christian revelation, but throughout the Epistle he is bringing his illustrations from the Old Testament, and showing to the Hebrew Christians to whom he wrote that there were abundant considerations “in the Old Testament itself” to constitute an argument why they should adhere inviolably to the Christian religion. He says, therefore, Hebrews 4:4, that God himself had spoken of his “own rest” from his works; that when he had finished the work of creation he had instituted a “rest” which was characterized by the peace, and beauty, and order of the first Sabbath after the work of creation, when all was new, and lovely, and pure.

That might be called the “rest of God” - a beautiful emblem of what dwells around his throne in heaven. The meaning of this verse Hebrews 4:4 is, that the Bible spoke early of a “rest” which appertained to God himself. In Hebrews 4:5, he goes on to say that the prospect of entering into “his” rest was spoken of as a possible thing; that some were excluded, but that there was a place deserved to be called “the rest of God” - “My rest” - to which all may come. Of course, that rest must be of a spiritual nature, and must be different from that of the promised land. That “rest” the apostle “implies” it was possible to attain. He does not argue this point at length, but he assumes that God would not create a place of rest in vain; that it was made to be enjoyed; and that since those to whom it was at first offered were excluded, it must follow that it remained still; and as they were excluded by the want of “faith,” it would follow also that it was reserved for those who “had” faith. Of course, therefore, it is offered to Christians now; Hebrews 4:6.

This view he proceeds to confirm by another consideration; Hebrews 4:7-8. It is that David, who lived nearly five hundred years after the land of promise had been occupied by the Israelites, spoke “then” of the possibility of entering into such a “rest.” He says Psalm 95:7, that, in his time, the people were called to hear the voice of God; that he warned them against the guilt and danger of hardening their hearts; that he reminded them that it was by that that the Israelites were excluded from the promised land, and that he said that the same thing would occur if those in his own time should harden their hearts. It followed, therefore, that even in the time of David there was a hope and promise of “rest;” and that there was something more intended for the true people of God than merely entering into the promised land. There must be something in advance of that; something that existed to the time of David - and it must be, therefore, a spiritual rest.

This, the apostle adds, Hebrews 4:8, is conclusive; for if Joshua had given them all the “rest” that was contemplated, then David would not have spoken as he did of the danger of being excluded from it in his time. He, therefore, Hebrews 4:9, comes to the conclusion that there must still remain a “rest” for the people of God, a “rest” to which they were invited, and which they were in danger of losing by unbelief. He adds Hebrews 4:10, that he who enters into that “rest” ceases from toil, as God did from his when he had finished the work of creation. Since, therefore, there is such a “rest,” and since there is danger of coming short of it, the apostle urges them Hebrews 4:11, to make every effort to enter into it. He adds Hebrews 4:12-13, as a consideration to quicken them to earnest effort and to anxious care lest they should be deceived, and should fail of it, the fact that God cannot be deceived; that his word penetrates the heart, and that everything is naked and open before him. There should, therefore, be the most faithful investigation of the heart, lest they should fail of the grace of God, and lose the hoped-for rest.

In the second portion of the chapter Hebrews 4:14-16, he enters on the consideration of the character of Christ as High Priest, and says that since we have such an High Priest as he is, we should be encouraged to come boldly to the throne of grace. We have encouragement to persevere from the fact that we have such a High Priest, and in all our conscious weakness and helplesness we may look to him for aid.

Verse 1

Let us therefore fear - Let us be apprehensive that we may possibly fall of that rest. The kind of “fear” which is recommended here is what leads to caution and care. A man who is in danger of losing his life or health should be watchful; a seaman that is in danger of running on a lee-shore should be on his guard. So we who have the offer of heaven, and who yet are in danger of losing it, should take all possible precautions lest we fail of it.

Lest a promise being left us - Paul assumes here that there is such a promise. In the subsequent part of the chapter, he goes more into the subject, and proves from the Old Testament that there is such a promise made to us. It is to be remembered that Paul had not the New Testament then to appeal to, as we have, which is perfectly clear on the subject, but that he was obliged to appeal to the Old Testament. This he did not only because the New Testament was not then written, but because he was reasoning with those who had been Hebrews, and who regarded the authority of the Old Testament as decisive. If his reasoning to us appears somewhat obscure, we should put ourselves in his place, and should remember that the converts then had not the full light which we have now in the New Testament.

Of entering into his rest - The rest of God - the rest of the world where he dwells. It is called “his” rest, because it is what he enjoys, and which he alone can confer. There can be no doubt that Paul refers here to heaven, and means to say that there is a promise left to Christians of being admitted to the enjoyment of that blessed world where God dwells.

Any of you should seem to come short of it - The word “seem” here is used as a form of gentle and mild address, implying the possibility of thus coming short. The word here - δοκέω dokeō- is often used so as to appear to give no essential addition to the sense of a passage, though it is probable that it always gave a shading to the meaning. Thus, the phrase “esse videatur” is often used by Cicero at the end of a period, to denote merely that a thing “was” - though he expressed it as though it merely “seemed” to be. Such language is often used in argument or in conversation as a “modest” expression, as when we say a thing “seems” to be so and so, instead of saying “it is.” In some such sense Paul probably used the phrase here - perhaps as expressing what we would by this language - “lest it should appear at last that any of you had come short of it.” The phrase “come short of it” is probably used with reference to the journey to the promised land, where they who came out of Egypt “came short” of that land, and fell in the wilderness. They did not reach it. This verse teaches the important truth that, though heaven is offered to us, and that a “rest” is promised to us if we seek it, yet that there is reason to think that many may fail of reaching it who had expected to obtain it. Among those will be the following classes:

(1)Those who are professors of religion but who have never known anything of true piety.

(2)those who are expecting to be saved by their own works, and are looking forward to a world of rest on the ground of what their own hands can do.

(3)those who defer attention to the subject from time to time until it becomes too late. They expect to reach heaven, but they are not ready to give their hearts to God “now,” and the subject is deferred from one period to another, until death arrests them unprepared.

(4)those who have been awakened to see their guilt and danger, and who have been almost but not quite ready to give up their hearts to God. Such were Agrippa, Felix, the young ruler Mark 10:21, and such are all those who are “almost” but not “quite” prepared to give up the world and to devote themselves to the Redeemer. To all these the promise of “rest” is made, if they will accept of salvation as it is offered in the gospel; all of them cherish a hope that they will be saved; and all of them are destined alike to be disappointed. With what earnestness, therefore, should we strive that we may not fail of the grace of God!

Verse 2

For unto us was the gospel preached as well as unto them - This translation by no means conveys the sense of the original. According to this it would seem that the “gospel,” as we understand it, or the whole plan of salvation, was communicated to “them,” as well as to “us.” But this is by no means the idea. The discussion has reference only to “the promise of rest,” and the assertion of the apostle is that this “good news” of a promise of rest is made to us as really as it was made to “them.” “Rest” was promised to them in the land of Canaan - an emblem of the eternal rest of the people of God. That was unquestioned, and Paul took it for granted. His object now is, to show that a promise of “rest” is as really made to us as it was to them, and that there is the same danger of failing to secure it as there was then. It was important for him to show that there was such a promise made to the people of God in his time, and as he was discoursing of those who were Hebrews, he of course made his appeal to the Old Testament. The literal translation would be, “For we are evangelized - ἐσμεν εὐηγγελισμένοι esmen euēngelismenoi- as well as they.” The word “evangelize” means to communicate good news, or glad tidings; and the idea here is, that the good news, or glad tidings of “rest” is announced to us as really as it was to them. This the apostle proves in the following verses.

But the word preached - Margin, “Of hearing.” The word “preach” we also use now in a technical sense as denoting a formal proclamation of the gospel by the ministers of religion. But this is not the idea here. It means, simply, the word which “they heard;” and refers particularly to the promise of “rest” which was made to them. That message was communicated to them by Moses.

Did not profit them - They derived no advantage from it. They rejected and despised it, and were, therefore, excluded from the promised land. It exerted no influence over their hearts and lives, and they lived and died as though no such promise had been made. Thus, many persons live and die now. The offer of salvation is made to them. They are invited to come and be saved. They are assured that God is willing to save them, and that the Redeemer stands with open arms to welcome them to heaven. They are trained up under the gospel; are led early in life to the sanctuary; are in the habit of attending on the preaching of the gospel all their days, but still what they hear exerts no saving influence on their hearts. At the close of life all that could be truly said of them is, that they have not been “profited;” it has been no real advantage to them in regard to their final destiny that they have enjoyed so many privileges.

Not being mixed with faith in them that heard it - Margin, “Or, because they were not united by faith to.” There are some various readings on this text, and one of these has given occasion to the version in the margin. Many mss. instead of the common reading - συγκεκερασμένος sugkekerasmenos- by which the word “mixed” would be united to ὁ λόγος ho logos- “the word,” have another reading - sugkekrame&noujsungkekramenous- according to which the word “mixed” would refer to “them,” and would mean that they who heard the Word and rejected it were not “mixed,” or united with those who believed it. The former reading makes the best sense, and is the best sustained; and the idea is, that the message which was preached was not received into the heart by faith. They were destitute of faith, and the message did not profit them. The word “mixed” is supposed by many of the best critics to refer to the process by which “food” is made nutritive, by being properly “mixed” with the saliva and the gastric juice, and thus converted into chyme, and chyle, and then changed into blood.

If suitably “mixed” in this manner, it contributes to the life and health of the physical frame; if not, it is the means of disease and death. So it is supposed the apostle meant to say of the message which God sends to man. If properly received; if mixed or united with faith, it becomes the means of spiritual support and life. If not, it furnishes no aliment to the soul, and will be of no advantage. As food when properly digested incorporates itself with the body, and gives it support, so those critics suppose it to be of the Word of God, that it incorporates itself with the internal and spiritual man, and gives it support and life. It may be doubted, however, whether the apostle had any such allusion as this, and whether it is not rather a refinement of the critics than of Paul. The word used here properly denotes a mixing or mingling together, like water and wine, 1 Corinthians 12:24; and it may refer here merely to a proper “union” of faith with the word, in order that it might be profitable. The idea is, that merely to “hear” the message of life with the outward ear will be of no advantage. It must be “believed,” or it will be of no benefit. The message is sent to mankind at large. God declares his readiness to save all. But this message is of no advantage to multitudes - for such reasons as these.

(1) Many do not attend to it at all. They do not even “listen” respectfully to it. Multitudes go not near the place where the gospel is proclaimed; and many, when there, and when they “seem” to attend, have their minds and hearts on other things.

(2) many do not “believe” it. They have doubts about the whole subject of religion, or about the particular doctrines of the gospel - and while they do not believe it, how can they be benefitted by it? How can a man be profited by the records of “history” if he does not believe them? How can one be benefited by the truths of “science” if he does not believe them? And if a man was assured that by going to a certain place he might close a bargain that would be a great advantage to him, of what use would this information be to him if he did not believe a word of it? So of the knowledge of salvation; the facts of the history recorded in the Bible; the offer of eternal life.

(3) men do not allow the message of life to influence their conduct, and of course it is of no advantage to them. Of what use can it be if they steadily resist all the influence which it would have, and ought to have, on their lives? They live as though it were ascertained that there is no truth in the Bible; no reason for being influenced by the offered hope of eternal life, or alarmed by the threatened danger of eternal death. Resolved to pursue a course of life that is at variance with the commands of God, they cannot be profited by the message of salvation. Having no faith which influences and controls the heart, they are not in the least benefited by the offer of heaven. When they die, their condition is in no wise made better by the fact that they were trained up in a pious family; that they were instructed in the Sunday School; that they had the Bible in their dwellings, and that they sat regularly under a preached gospel. For any “advantage” to be derived from all this in the future world, they might as well have never heard the message of life. Nay it would have been better for them. The only effect of these privileges is to harden them in guilt, and to sink them deeper in hell; see the notes, 2 Corinthians 2:16.

Verse 3

For we which have believed do enter into rest - That is, it is a certain fact that believers “will” enter into rest. That promise is made to “believers;” and as we have evidence that “we” come under the denomination of believers, it will follow that we have the offer of rest as well as they. That this is so, the apostle proceeds to prove; that is, he proceeds to show from the Old Testament that there was a promise to “believers” that they would enter into rest. Since there was such a promise, and since there was danger that by unbelief that “rest” might be lost, he proceeds to show them the danger, and to warn them of it.

As he said … - see Hebrews 3:11. The meaning of this passage is this. “God made a promise of rest to those who believe. They to whom the offer was first made failed, and did not enter in. It must follow, therefore, that the offer extended to others, since God designed that some should enter in, or that it should not he provided in vain. To them it was a solemn declaration that unbelievers should not enter in, and this implied that believers would. “As we now,” says he, “sustain the character of “believers,” it follows that to us the promise of rest is now made and we may partake of it.”

If they shall enter … - That is, they shall “not” enter in; see Hebrews 3:11. The “rest” here spoken of as reserved for Christians must be different from that of the promised land. It is something that pertains to Christians now, and it must, therefore, refer to the “rest” that remains in heaven.

Although the works were finished … - This is a difficult expression. What works are referred to? it may be asked. How does this bear on the subject under discussion? How can it be a proof that there remains a “rest” to those who believe now? This was the point to be demonstrated; and this passage was designed clearly to bear on that point. As it is in our translation, the passage seems to make no sense whatever. Tyndale renders it, “And that spake he verily long after that the works were made from the foundation of the world laid;” which makes much better sense than our translation. Doddridge explains it as meaning, “And this may lead us further to reflect on what is said elsewhere concerning his works as they were finished from the foundation of the world.” But it is difficult to see why they should reflect on his works just then, and how this would bear on the case in hand. Prof. Stuart supposes that the word “rest” must be understood here before “works,” and translates it, “Shall not enter into my rest, to wit, rest from the works which were performed when the world was founded.” Prof. Robinson (Lexicon) explains it as meaning, “The rest here spoken of, ‹my rest,‘ could not have been God‘s resting from his works Genesis 2:2, for this rest, the Sabbath, had already existed from the creation of the world.” Dr. John P. Wilson (ms. notes) renders it, “For we who have believed, do enter into rest (or a cessation) indeed ( καίτοι kaitoi) of the works done (among people) from the beginning of the world.” Amidst this variety of interpretation it is difficult to determine the true sense. But perhaps the main thought may be collected from the following remarks:

(1)The Jews as the people of God had a rest promised them in the land of Canaan. Of that they failed by their unbelief.

(2)the purpose of the apostle was to prove that there was a similar promise made to the people of God long subsequent to that, and to which “all” his people were invited.

(3)that rest was not that of the promised land, it was such as “God had himself” when he had finished the work of creation. That was especially “his rest” - the rest of God, without toil, or weariness, and after his whole “work” was finished.

(4)his people were invited to the same “rest” - the rest of God - to partake of his felicity; to enter into that bliss which “he” enjoyed when he had finished the work of creation. The happiness of the saints was to be “like” that. It was to be “in their case” also a rest from toil - to be enjoyed at the end of all that “they” had to do.

To prove that Christians were to attain to “such” a rest, was the purpose which the apostle had in view - showing that it was a general doctrine pertaining to believers in every age, that there was a promise of rest for them. I would then regard the middle clause of this verse as a parenthesis, and render the whole, “For we who are believers shall enter into rest - (the rest) indeed which occurred when the works were finished at the foundation of the world - as he said (in one place) as I have sworn in my wrath they shall not enter into my rest.” That was the true rest - such rest or repose as “God” had when he finished the work of creation - such as he has now in heaven. This gives the highest possible idea of the dignity and desirableness of that “rest” to which we look forward - for it is to be such as God enjoys, and is to elevate us more and more to him. What more exalted idea can there be of happiness than to participate in the calmness, the peace, the repose, the freedom from raging passions, from wearisome toil, and from agitating cares, which God enjoys? Who, torn with conflicting passions here, wearied with toil, and distracted with care, ought not to feel it a privilege to look forward to that rest? Of this rest the Sabbath and the promised land were emblems. They to whom the promise was made did not enter in, but some “shall” enter in, and the promise therefore pertains to us.

Verse 4

For he spake - Genesis 2:2. “And God did rest.” “At the close of the work of creation he rested. The work was done. “That” was the rest of God. He was happy in the contemplation of his own works; and he instituted that day to be observed as a memorial of “his” resting from his works, and as a “type” of the eternal rest which remained for man.” The idea is this, that the notion of “rest” of some kind runs through all dispensations. It was seen in the finishing of the work of creation; seen in the appointment of the Sabbath; seen in the offer of the promised land, and is seen now in the promise of heaven. All dispensations contemplate “rest,” and there must be such a prospect before man now. When it is said that “God did rest,” of course it does not mean that he was wearied with his toil, but merely that he “ceased” from the stupendous work of creation. He no more put forth creative energy, but calmly contemplated his own works in their beauty and grandeur; Genesis 1:31. In carrying forward the great affairs of the universe, he always has been. actively employed John 5:17, but he is not employed in the work of “creation” properly so called. That is done; and the sublime cessation from that constitutes the “rest of God.”

Verse 5

And in this place again - Psalm 95:11.

If they shall enter - That is, they shall not enter; see the notes at Hebrews 3:11. The object of quoting this here seems to be two-fold:

(1)To show that even in this Psalm God spoke of “his” rest, and said that they should not enter into it; and,

(2)it is connected with Hebrews 4:6, and is designed to show that it was implied that a rest yet remained. “That which deserves to be called “the divine rest” is spoken of in the Scriptures, and as “they” did not enter into it, it follows that it must be in reserve for some others, and that the promise must still remain.”

Verse 6

Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein - That is, “Since there is a rest spoken of in the Scriptures, implying that it is to be enjoyed by some, and since they to whom it was first promised did not inherit it, it follows that it must still be in reserve.” This is the conclusion which the apostle draws from the argument in the previous verses, and is connected with Hebrews 4:9, where he says that “there remaineth a rest to the people of God” - the point to which the whole argument tended. The statement in Hebrews 4:7, Hebrews 4:8, is to be regarded as an “interruption” in stating the conclusion, or as the suggestion of a new thought or a new argument bearing on the subject, which he sets down even while stating the conclusion from his argument. It has the appearance of being “suggested” to him as a new thought of importance, and which he preferred to place even in the midst of the summing up of the argument rather than omit it altogether. It denotes a state of mind full of the subject, and where one idea came hastening after another, and which it was deemed important to notice, even though it should seem to be out of place. The “position” in this Hebrews 4:6 is, that it was a settled or indisputable matter that some would enter into rest. The implied argument to prove this is:

(1)that there was a “rest” spoken of which deserved to be called a “divine rest,” or the “rest of God;”

(2)it could not be supposed that God would prepare such a rest in vain, for it would follow that if he had suited up a world of rest, he designed that it should be occupied. As he knew, therefore, that they to whom it was first offered would not enter in, it must be that he designed it for some others, and that it “remained” to be occupied by us now.

And they to whom it was first preached - Margin, “The Gospel.” Greek “Evangelized;” that is, to where the good news of the rest was first announced - the Israelites. “Entered not in because of unbelief;” see the notes at Hebrews 3:19.

Verse 7

Again, he limiteth - He designates, or definitely mentions. The word rendered “limiteth” - ὁρίζει horizei- means to “bound,” to set a boundary - as of a field or farm; and then to determine or fix definitely, to designate, appoint. Here it means, that he specifies particularly, or mentions expressly.

A certain day - A particular time; he mentions today particularly. That is, in the time of David, he uses the word “today,” as if time was “then” an offer of rest, and as if it were then possible to enter into it. The object of the additional thought was to show that the offer of rest was not confined to the Israelites to whom it was first made; that David regarded it as existing in his day; and that man might even then be invited to come and partake of the rest that was promised. “Nearly five hundred years after the time when the Israelites were going to the promised land, and when the offer of rest was made to them, we hear David speaking of “rest” still; rest which Was offered in his time, and which might then be lost by hardening the heart. It could not be, therefore, that the offer of rest pertained merely to the promised land. It must be something in advance of that. It must be something existing in the time of David. It must be an offer of heaven.” A Jew might feel the force of this argument more than we do; still it is conclusive to prove the point under consideration, that there was a rest spoken of long after the offer of the promised land, and that all the promises could not have pertained to that.

Saying in David - In a Psalm composed by David, or rather perhaps, saying “by” David; that is, God spake by him.

Today - Now - that is, even in the time of David.

After so long a time - That is, so long after the first promise was made; to wit, about 500 years. These are the words of Paul calling attention to the fact that so long a time after the entrance into the promised land there was still a speaking of “today,” as if even then they were called to partake of the rest.

As it is said - To quote it exactly; or to bring the express authority of the Scriptures. It is expressly said even after that long time, “today - or now, if you will hear his voice.” All this is to prove that even in that time there was an offer of rest.

Verse 8

For if Jesus - Margin, “That is, Joshua.” The Syriac renders it, “Joshua the son of Nun.” “Jesus” is the Greek mode of writing “Joshua,” and there can be no doubt that Joshua is here intended. The object is to prove that Joshua did” not” give the people of God such a rest as to make it improper to speak of a “rest” after that time. “If Joshua had given them a complete and final rest; if by his conducting them to the promised land all had been done which had been contemplated by the promise, then it would not have been alluded to again, as it was in the time of David.” Joshua “did” give them a rest in the promised land; but it was not all which was intended, and it did not exclude the promise of another and more important rest.

Then would he not - Then “God” would not have spoken of another time when that rest could be obtained. The “other day” here referred to is that which is mentioned before by the phrase “today,” and refers to the time in which it is spoken of long after Joshua, to wit, in the time of David.

Verse 9

There remaineth, therefore, a rest - This is the conclusion to which the apostle comes. The meaning is this, that according to the Scriptures there is “now” a promise of rest made to the people of God. It did not pertain merely to those who were called to go to the promised land, nor to those who lived in the time of David, but it is “still” true that the promise of rest pertains to “all” the people of God of every generation. The “reasoning” by which the apostle comes to this conclusion is briefly this:

(1)That there was a “rest” - called “the rest of God” - spoken of in the earliest period of the world - implying that God meant that it should be enjoyed.

(2)that the Israelites, to whom the promise was made, failed of obtaining what was promised by their unbelief.

(3)that God intended that “some” should enter into his rest - since it would not be provided in vain.

(4)that long after the Israelites had fallen in the wilderness, we find the same reference to a rest which David in his time exhorts those whom he addressed to endeavor to obtain.

(5)that if all that had been meant by the word “rest,” and by the promise, had been accomplished when Joshua conducted the Israelites to the land of Canaan, we should not have heard another day spoken of when it was possible to forfeit that rest by unbelief.

It followed, therefore, that there was something besides that; something that pertained to all the people of God to which the name rest might still be given, and which they were exhorted still to obtain. The word “rest” in this verse - σαββατισμὸς sabbatismos- “Sabbatism,” in the margin is rendered “keeping of a Sabbath.” It is a different word from σάββατον sabbaton- “the Sabbath;” and it occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, and is not found in the Septuagint. It properly means “a keeping Sabbath” from σαββατίζω sabbatizō- “to keep Sabbath.” This word, not used in the New Testament, occurs frequently in the Septuagint; Exodus 16:30; Leviticus 23:32; Leviticus 26:35; 2 Chronicles 36:21; and in 3Esdr. 1:58; Hebrews 4:4, note), and of which that was the type and emblem. There will be “employment” there, but it will be without fatigue; there will be the occupation of the mind, and of whatever powers we may possess, but without weariness. Here we are often worn down and exhausted. The body sinks under continued toil, and fails into the grave. There the slave will rest from his toil; the man here oppressed and broken down by anxious care will cease from his labors. We know but little of heaven; but we know that a large part of what now oppresses and crushes the frame will not exist there. Slavery will be unknown; the anxious care for support will be unknown, and all the exhaustion which proceeds from the love of gain, and from ambition, will be unknown. In the wearisome toils of life, then, let us look forward to the “rest” that remains in heaven, and as the laborer looks to the shades of the evening, or to the Sabbath as a period of rest, so let us look to heaven as the place of eternal repose.

(2) heaven will be like a Sabbath. The best description of it is to say it is “an eternal Sabbath.” Take the Sabbath on earth when best observed, and extend the idea to eternity, and let there be separated all idea of imperfection from its observance, and that would be heaven. The Sabbath is holy; so is heaven. It is a period of worship; so is heaven. It is for praise and for the contemplation of heavenly truth; so is heaven. The Sabbath is appointed that we may lay aside worldly cares and anxieties for a little season here; heaven that we may lay them aside forever.

(3) the Sabbath here should be like heaven. It is designed to be its type and emblem. So far as the circumstances of the case will allow, it should be just like heaven. There should be the same employments; the same joys; the same communion with God. One of the best rules for employing the Sabbath aright is, to think what heaven will be, and then to endeavor to spend it in the same way. One day in seven at least should remind us of what heaven is to be; and that day may be, and should be, the most happy of the seven.

(4) they who do not love the Sabbath on earth, are not prepared for heaven. If it is to them a day of tediousness; if its hours move heavily; if they have no delight in its sacred employments, what would an eternity of such days be? How would they be passed? Nothing can be clearer than that if we have no such happiness in a season of holy rest, and in holy employments here, we are wholly unprepared for heaven. To the Christian it is the subject of the highest joy in anticipation that heaven is to be “one long unbroken” sabbath - an eternity of successive Sabbath hours. But what to a sinner could be a more repulsive and gloomy prospect than such an eternal Sabbath?

(5) if this be so, then what a melancholy view is furnished as to the actual preparation of the great mass of people for heaven! How is the Sabbath now spent? In idleness; in business; in traveling; in hunting and fishing; in light reading and conversation; in sleep; in visiting; in riding, walking, lounging, “ennui;” - in revelry and dissipation; in any and every way “except the right way;” in every way except in holy communion with God. What would the race be if once transported to heaven as they are! What a prospect would it be to this multitude to have to spend “an eternity” which would be but a prolongation of the Sabbath of holiness!

(6) let those who love the Sabbath rejoice in the prospect of eternal rest in heaven. In our labor let us look to that world where wearisome toil is unknown; in our afflictions, let us look to that world where tears never fall; and when our hearts are pained by the violation of the Sabbath all around us, let us look to that blessed world where such violation will cease forever. It is not far distant. A few steps will bring us there. Of any Christian it may be said that perhaps his next Sabbath will be spent in heaven - near the throne of God.

Verse 10

For he that is entered into rest - That is, the man who is so happy as to reach heaven, will enjoy a rest similar to what God had when he finished the work of creation. It will be:

(1)acessation from toil; and,

(2)it will be a rest similar to that of God - the same kind of enjoyment, the same freedom from care, anxiety, and labor.

How happy then are they who have entered into heaven! Their toils are over. Their labors are done. Never again will they know fatigue. Never more will they feel anxious care. Let us learn then:

(1) not to mourn improperly for those who have left us and gone to heaven. Happy in the rest of God, why should not we rejoice? Why wish them back again in a world of toil!

(2) let us in our toils look forward to the world of rest. Our labors will all be over. The weary man will lay down his burden; the exhausted frame will know fatigue no more. Rest is sweet at night after the toils of day; how much more sweet will it be in heaven after the toils of life! Let us.

(3) labor while is is called today. Soon we shall cease from our work. All that we have to do is to be done soon. We shall soon cease from “our” work as God did from his. What we have to do for the salvation of children, brothers, sisters, friends, and for the world, is to be done soon. From the abodes of bliss we shall not be sent forth to speak to our kindred of the blessedness of that world, or to admonish our friends to escape from the place of despair. The pastor will not come again to warn and invite his people; the parent will not come again to tell his children of the Saviour and of heaven; the neighbor will not come to admonish his neighbor; compare Luke 16:24-29. We shall all have ceased from our work as God did from his; and never again shall we speak to a living friend to invite him to heaven.

Verse 11

Let us therefore labour - Let us earnestly strive. Since there is a rest whose attainment is worth all our efforts; since so many have failed of reaching it by their unbelief, and since there is so much danger that we may fail of it also, let us give all diligence that we may enter into it. Heaven is never obtained but by diligence; and no one enters there who does not earnestly desire it, and who does not make a sincere effort to reach it.

Of unbelief - Margin, “disobedience.” The word “unbelief” best expresses the sense, as the apostle was showing that this was the principal thing that prevented people from entering into heaven; see the notes at Hebrews 3:12.

Verse 12

For the word of God - The design of this and the following verse is obvious. It is to show that we cannot escape the notice of God; that all insincerity, unbelief, hypocrisy, will be detected by him; and that since our hearts are perfectly open before him, we should be sincere and should not attempt to deceive him. The sense is, that the truth of God is all-penetrating and searching, and that the real thoughts and intents of the heart will be brought to light, and that if there is insincerity and self-deception there can be no hope of escape. There has been a great variety of opinion here about the meaning of the phrase “the Word of God.” Some have supposed that it means the Lord Jesus; others, the whole of the divine revelation; others the gospel; others the particular threatening referred to here. The “Word of God” is “what God speaks” - whether it be a promise or a threatening; whether it be Law or gospel; whether it be a simple declaration or a statement of a doctrine. The idea here is, that what “God had said” is suited to detect hypocrisy and to lay open the true nature of the feelings of the soul, so that there can be no escape for the guilty. His “truth” is adapted to bring out the real feelings, and to show man exactly what he is. Truth always has this power - whether preached, or read, or communicated by conversation, or impressed upon the memory and conscience by the Holy Spirit. There can be no escape from the penetrating, searching application of the Word of God. That truth has power to show what man is, and is like a penetrating sword that lays open the whole man; compare Isaiah 49:2. The phrase “the Word of God” here may be applied, therefore, to the “truth” of God, however made known to the mind. In some way it will bring out the real feelings, and show what man is.

Is quick - Greek ζῶν zōn- “living.” It is not dead, inert, and powerless. It has a “living” power, and is energetic and active. It is “adapted” to produce this effect.

And powerful - Mighty. Its power is seen in awakening the conscience; alarming the fears; laying bare the secret feelings of the heart, and causing the sinner to tremble with the apprehension of the coming judgment. All the great changes in the moral world for the better, have been caused by the power of truth. They are such as the truth in its own nature is suited to effect, and if we may judge of its power by the greatness of the revolutions produced, no words can over-estimate the might of the truth which God has revealed.

Sharper than any two-edged sword - Literally, “two-mouthed” sword - δίστομον distomonThe word “mouth” was given to the sword because it seemed to “devour” all before it. It consumed or destroyed as a wild beast does. The comparison of the Word of God to a sword or to an arrow, is designed to show its power of penetrating the heart; Ecclesiastes 12:11, “The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies;” compare Isaiah 49:2. “And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword;” Revelation 1:16, “And out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword;” Revelation 2:12, Revelation 2:16; Revelation 19:15. The comparison is common in the classics, and in Arabic poetry; see Gesenius, on Isaiah 49:2. The idea is that of piercing, or penetrating; and the meaning here is, that the Word of God reaches the “heart” - the very center of action, and lays open the motives and feelings of the man. It was common among the ancients to have a sword with two edges. The Roman sword was commonly made in this manner. The fact that it had two edges made it more easy to penetrate, as well as to cut with every way.

Piercing even to the dividing asunder - Penetrating so as to divide.

Soul and spirit - The animal life from the immortal soul. The former word here - ψυχή psuchē- “soul” - is evidently used to denote the “animal life,” as distinguished from the mind or soul. The latter word - πνεῦμα pneuma- “spirit” - means the soul; the immaterial and immortal part; what lives when the animal life is extinct. This distinction occurs in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “your whole spirit, and soul, and body;” and it is a distinction which we are constantly in the habit of making. There is the body in man - the animal life - and the immortal part that leaves the body when life is extinct. Mysteriously united, they constitute one man. When the animal life is separated from the soul, or when the soul leaves the animated body, the body dies, and life is extinct. To separate the one from the other is, therefore, the same as to take life - and this is the idea here, that the Word of God is like a sharp sword that inflicts deadly wounds. The sinner “dies;” that is, he becomes dead to his former hopes, or is “slain” by the Law; Romans 7:9, “I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” This is the power referred to here - the power of destroying the hopes of the sinner; cutting him down under conviction; and prostrating him as if a sword had pierced his heart.

And of the joints and marrow - The figure is still continued of the sword that takes life. Such a sword would seem to penetrate even the joints and marrow of the body. It would separate the joints, and pierce through the very bones to the marrow. A similar effect, Paul says, is produced by truth. It seems to penetrate the very essence of the soul, and lay it all open to the view.

And is a discerner of the thoughts - It shows what the thoughts and intentions are. Prof. Stuart, Bloomfield, and some others, suppose that the reference here is to “God” speaking by his word. But the more natural construction certainly is, to refer it to the Word or truth of God. It is true that God searches the heart, and knows the thoughts, but that is not the truth which is prominent here. It is, that the thoughts and intents of the heart are brought out to view by the Word of God. And can anyone doubt this? see Romans 7:7. Is it not true that people are made to see their real character under the exhibition of the truth of God? That in the light of the Law they see their past lives to be sinful? That the exhibition of truth calls to their recollection many long-forgotten sins? And that their real feelings are brought out when the truth of God is proclaimed? Men then are made to look upon their motives as they had never done before, and to see in their hearts feelings whose existence they would not have suspected if it had not been for the exhibition of the truth. The exhibition of the truth is like pouring down the beams of the sun at midnight on a dark world; and the truth lays open the real feelings of the sinner as that sun would disclose the clouds of wickedness that are now performed under cover of the night. Many a man has a deep and fixed hostility to God and to his gospel who might never be sensible of it if the truth was not faithfully proclaimed. The particular idea here is, that the truth of God will detect the feelings of the hypocrite and self-deceiver. They cannot always conceal their emotions, and the time will come when truth, like light poured into the soul, will reveal their unbelief and their secret sins. They who are cherishing a hope of salvation, therefore, should be on their guard lest they mistake the name for the reality. Let us learn from this verse:

(1) The power of truth. It is “suited” to lay open the secret feelings of the soul. There is not an effect produced in awakening a sinner; or in his conviction, conversion, and sanctification, which the truth is not “adapted” to produce. The truth of God is not dead; nor suited to make people “worse;” nor designed merely to show its own “weakness,” and to be a mere occasion on which the Holy Spirit acts on the mind; it is in its own nature Fitted to produce just the effects which are produced when it awakens, convicts, converts, and sanctifies the soul.

(2) the truth should be preached with the feeling that it is adapted to this end. Men who preach should endeavor to understand the nature of the mind and of the moral feelings, as really as he who would inflict a deadly wound should endeavor to understand enough about anatomy to know where the heart is, or he who administers medicine should endeavor to know what is adapted to remove certain diseases. And he who has no belief in the efficacy of truth to produce any effect, resembles one who should suppose that all knowledge of the human system was needless to him who wished to perform a surgical operation, and who should cut at random - piously leaving it with God to direct the knife; or he who should go into a hospital of patients and administer medicines indiscriminately - devoutly saying that all healing must come from God, and that the use of medicine was only to show its own weakness! Thus, many men seem to preach. Yet for aught that appears, truth is just as wisely adapted to save the soul as medicine is to heal the sick; and why then should not a preacher be as careful to study the nature of truth and its adaptedness to a particular end, as a student of the healing art is to understand the adaptedness of medicine to cure disease? The true way of preaching is, to feel that truth is adapted to the end in view; to select what is best suited for that end; to preach as if the whole result depended on getting that truth before the mind and into the heart - and then to leave the whole result with God - as a physician with right feelings will exert all his skill to save his patient, and then commit the whole question of life and health to God. He will be more likely to praise God intelligently who believes that he has wisely adapted a plan to the end in view, than he who believes that God works only at random.

Verse 13

Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight - There is no being who is not wholly known to God. All his thoughts, feelings, plans, are distinctly understood. Of the truth of this there can be no doubt. The “design” of the remark here is, to guard those to whom the apostle was writing from self-deception - since they could conceal nothing from God.

All things are naked - Exposed; uncovered. There is nothing that can be concealed from God; Psalm 139:11-12.

“The veil of night is no disguise,

No screen from thy all-searching eyes;

Thy hands can seize thy foes as soon.

Thro‘ midnight shades as blazing noon.”

And opened - - τετραχηλισμένα tetrachēlismenaThe word used here - Τραχηλίζω Trachēlizō- properly means:

(1)to lay bare the neck, or to bend it back, so as to expose the throat to being cut;

(2)to expose; to lay open in any way.

Why the word is used here has been a matter of inquiry. Some have supposed that the phrase is derived from offering sacrifice, and from the fact that the priest carefully examined the victim to see whether it was sound, before it was offered. But this is manifestly a forced exposition. Others have supposed that it is derived from the custom of bending back the head of a criminal so as to look full in his face, and recognize him so as not to be mistaken; but this is equally forced and unnatural. This opinion was first proposed by Erasmus, and has been adopted by Clarke and others. Bloomfield, following, as he says, the interpretation of Chrysostom, Grotius (though this is not the sentiment of Grotius), Beza, Atling, Hammond, and others, supposes the allusion to be to the custom of cutting the animal down the back bone through the spinal marrow, and thus of laying it open entirely.

This sense would well suit the connection. Grotius supposes that it means to strip off the skin by dividing it at the neck. and then removing it. This view is also adopted substantially by Doddridge. These explanations are forced, and imply a departure more or less from the proper meaning of the Greek word. The most simple and obvious meaning is usually the best in explaining the Bible. The word which the apostle employs relates to “the neck” - τράχηλος trachēlos- and not to the spinal marrow, or the skin. The proper meaning of the verb is “to bend the neck back” so as to expose it in front when an animal is slain - Passow. Then it means to make bare; to remove everything like covering; to expose a thing entirely - as the naked neck is for the knife. The allusion here is undoubtedly to the “sword” which Paul had referred to in the previous verse, as dividing the soul and spirit, and the joints and marrow; and the meaning is, that in the hand of God, who held that sword, everything was exposed.

We are in relation to that, like an animal whose neck is bent back, and laid bare, and ready for the slaughter. Nothing “hinders” God from striking; there is nothing that can prevent that sword from penetrating the heart - any more than when the neck of the animal is bent back and laid bare, there is anything that can hinder the sacrificing priest from thrusting the knife into the throat of the victim. If this be the true interpretation, then what an affecting view does it give of the power of God, and of the exposedness of man to destruction! All is bare, naked, open. There is no concealment; no hindrance; no power of resistance. In a moment God can strike, and his dreadful sentence shall fall on the sinner like the knife on the exposed throat of the victim. What emotions should the sinner have who feels that he is exposed each moment to the sentence of eternal justice - to the sword of God - as the animal with bent-back neck is exposed to the knife! And what solemn feelings should all have who remember that all is naked and open before God! Were we “transparent” so that the world could see all we are, who would dare go abroad?

Who would wish the world to read all his thoughts and feelings for a single day? Who would wish his best friends to look in upon his naked soul as we can look into a room through a window? O what blushes and confusion; what a hanging down of the head, and what an effort to escape from the gaze of people would there be, if every one knew that all his secret feelings were seen by every person whom he met! Social enjoyment would end; and the now frivolous and blithe multitudes in the streets would become processions of downcast and blushing convicts. And yet all these are known to God. He reads every thought; sees every feeling; looks through the whole soul. How careful should we be to keep our hearts pure; how anxious that there should be nothing in the soul that we are not willing to have known!

With whom we have to do - Literally, “with whom is our account.” Our account; our reckoning is to be with him before whom all is naked and open. We cannot, therefore, impose on him. We cannot pass off hypocrisy for sincerity. He will judge us according to truth, not according to appearances; and his sentence, therefore, will be just. A man who is to be tried by one “who knows all about him,” should be a pure and holy man.

Verse 14

Seeing then that we have a great high priest - The apostle here resumes the subject which had been slightly hinted at in Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 3:1, and pursues it to the end of Luke 1:5 note; Matthew 26:3 note. The name “great high priest” would designate him who actually held the office, and was at the head of all the other priests; and the idea here is, not merely that the Lord Jesus was “a priest,” but that he was at the head of all: in the Christian economy he sustained a rank that corresponded with that of the great high priest in the Jewish.

That is passed into the heavens - Hebrews 9:12, Hebrews 9:24. The Jewish high priest went once a year into the most holy place in the temple, to offer the blood of the atonement; see the notes on Hebrews 9:7. Paul says that the Christian High Priest has gone into heaven. He has gone there also to make intercession, and to sprinkle the blood of the atonement on the mercy-seat; see the notes at Hebrews 9:24-25.

Jesus the Son of God - Not a descendant of Aaron, but one much greater - the Son of God; see the notes at Hebrews 1:2.

Let us hold fast our profession - see the notes at Hebrews 10:23; Hebrews 3:14; see the note, Hebrews 3:1. This is the drift and scope of the Epistle - to show that Christians should hold fast their profession, and not apostatize. The object of the apostle now is to show why the fact that we have such a High Priest, is a reason why we should hold fast our professed attachment to him. These reasons - which are drawn out in the succeeding chapters - are such as the following:

(1)We may look to him for assistance - since he can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; Hebrews 4:15-16.

(2)the impossibility of being renewed again if we should fall away from him, since there is but “one” such High Priest, and since the sacrifice for sin can never be repeated; Hebrews 10:27-30.

By considerations such as these, the apostle aims to show them the danger of apostasy, and to urge them to a faithful adherence to their Christian profession.

Verse 15

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched - Our High Priest is not cold and unfeeling. That is, we have one who is abundantly qualified to sympathize with us in our afflictions, and to whom, therefore, we may look for aid and support in trials. Had we a high priest who was cold and heartless; who simply performed the external duties of his office without entering into the sympathies of those who came to seek for pardon; who had never experienced any trials, and who felt himself above those who sought his aid, we should necessarily feel disheartened in attempting to overcome our sins, and to live to God. His coldness would repel us; his stateliness would awe us; his distance and reserve would keep us away, and perhaps render us indifferent to all desire to be saved. But tenderness and sympathy attract those who are feeble, and kindness does more than anything else to encourage those who have to encounter difficulties and dangers; see the notes at Hebrews 2:16-18. Such tenderness and sympathy has our Great High Priest.

But was in all points tempted like as we are - “Tried” as we are; see the notes at Hebrews 2:18. He was subjected to all the kinds of trial to which we can be, and he is, therefore, able to sympathize with us and to aid us. He was tempted - in the literal sense; he was persecuted; he was poor; he was despised; he suffered physical pain; he endured the sorrows of a lingering and most cruel death.

Yet without sin - 1 Peter 2:22. “Who did no sin;” Isaiah 53:9, “He had done no violence, neither was there any deceit in his mouth;” Hebrews 7:26, “Who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” The importance of this fact - that the Great High Priest of the Christian profession was “without sin,” the apostle illustrates at length in Hebrews 79. He here merely alludes to it, and says that one who was “without sin” was able to assist those who were sinners, and who put their trust in him.

Verse 16

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace - “The throne of grace!” What a beautiful expression. A throne is the seat of a sovereign; a throne of grace is designed to represent a sovereign seated to dispense mercy and pardon. The illustration or comparison here may have been derived from the temple service. In that service God is represented as seated in the most holy place on the mercy seat. The high priest approaches that seat or throne of the divine majesty with the blood of the atonement to make intercession for the people, and to plead for pardon; see the notes on Hebrews 9:7-8. That scene was emblematic of heaven. God is seated on a throne of mercy. The great High Priest of the Christian calling, having shed his own blood to make expiation, is represented as approaching, God and pleading for the pardon of people. To a God willing to show mercy he comes with the merits of a sacrifice sufficient for all, and pleads for their salvation. We may, therefore, come with boldness and look for pardon. We come not depending on our own merits, but we come where a sufficient sacrifice has been offered for human guilt; and where we are assured that God is merciful. We may, therefore, come without hesitancy, or trembling, and ask for all the mercy that we need.

That we may obtain mercy - This is what we want first. We need pardon - as the first thing when we come to God. We are guilty and self-condemned - and our first cry should be for “mercy” - “mercy.” A man who comes to God not feeling his need of mercy must fail of obtaining the divine favor; and he will be best prepared to obtain that favor who has the deepest sense of his need of forgiveness.

And find grace - Favor - strength, help, counsel, direction, support, for the various duties and trials of life. This is what we next need - we all need - we always need. Even when pardoned, we need grace to keep us from sin, to aid us in duty, to preserve us in the day of temptation. And feeling our need of this, we may come and ask of God “all” that we want for this purpose. Such is the assurance given us; and to this bold approach to the throne of grace all are freely invited. In view of it, let us,

(1) Rejoice that there “is” a throne of grace. What a world would this be if God sat on a throne of “justice” only, and if no mercy were ever to be shown to people! Who is there who would not be overwhelmed with despair? But it is not so. He is on a throne of grace. By day and by night; from year to year; from generation to generation; he is on such a throne. In every land he may be approached, and in as many different languages as people speak, may they plead for mercy. In all times of our trial and temptation we may be assured that he is seated on that throne, and wherever we are, we may approach him with acceptance.

(2) we “need” the privilege of coming before such a throne. We are sinful - and need mercy; we are feeble, and need grace to help us. There is not a day of our lives in which we do not need pardon; not an hour in which we do not need grace.

(3) how obvious are the propriety and necessity of prayer! Every man is a sinner - and should pray for pardon; every man is weak, feeble, dependent, and should pray for grace. Not until a man can prove that he has never done any sin, should he maintain that he has no need of pardon; not until he can show that he is able alone to meet the storms and temptations of life, should he feel that he has no need to ask for grace. Yet who can feel this? And how strange it is that all people do not pray!

(4) it is easy to be forgiven. All that needs to be done is to plead the merits of our Great High Priest, and God is ready to pardon. Who would not be glad to be able to pay a debt in a manner so easy? Yet how few there are who are willing to pay the debt to justice thus!

(5) it is easy to obtain all the grace that we need. We have only to “ask for it” - and it is done. How easy then to meet temptation if we would! How strange that any should rely on their own strength, when they may lean on the arm of God!

(6) if people are not pardoned, and if they fall into sin and ruin, they alone are to blame. There is a throne of grace. It is always accessible. There is A God. He is always ready to pardon. There is A Redeemer. He is the Great High Priest of people. He is always interceding. His merits may always be pleaded as the ground of our salvation. Why then, O why, should any remain unforgiven and perish? On them alone the blame must lie. In their own bosoms is the reason why they are not saved.


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Bibliography Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Hebrews 4:4". "Barnes' Notes on the New Testament". 1870.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, July 21st, 2017
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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