Monday, March 27th, 2023
the Fifth Week of Lent
the Fifth Week of Lent
There are 13 days til Easter!
Contending for the Faith Contending for the Faith
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Hebrews 3". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ ctf/ hebrews-3.html. 1993-2022.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Hebrews 3". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/
- Henry's Complete
- Clarke Commentary
- Bridgeway Bible Commentary
- Coffman's Commentaries
- Barnes' Notes
- Bullinger's Companion Notes
- Calvin's Commentary
- Bell's Commentary
- College Press
- Church Pulpit Commentary
- Smith's Commentary
- Dummelow on the Bible
- Constable's Expository Notes
- Darby's Synopsis
- Ellicott's Commentary
- Expositor's Dictionary
- Hole's Commentary
- Meyer's Commentary
- Gaebelein's Annotated
- Gann on the Bible
- Morgan's Exposition
- Gill's Exposition
- Everett's Study Notes
- Geneva Study Bible
- Haydock's Catholic Commentary
- Commentary Critical
- Commentary Critical Unabridged
- Gray's Concise Commentary
- Sutcliffe's Commentary
- Trapp's Commentary
- Kretzmann's Commentary
- Lange's Commentary
- Grant's Commentary
- MacLaren's Expositions
- Henry's Complete
- Henry's Concise
- Poole's Annotations
- Pett's Commentary
- Peake's Commentary
- Preacher's Homiletical
- Poor Man's Commentary
- Benson's Commentary
- Sermon Bible Commentary
- Horae Homileticae
- Scofield's Notes
- The Biblical Illustrator
- Coke's Commentary
- The Expositor's Bible Commentary
- The Pulpit Commentaries
- Treasury of Scripture Knowledge
- Wesley's Notes
- Whedon's Commentary
- Calvin's Commentary
- Henry's Complete
- AEK Concordant NT Commentary
- Abbott's NT
- Orchard's Catholic Commentary
- Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary
- Contending for the Faith
- Daily Study Bible
- Expositor's Greek Testament
- Family Bible NT
- Godbey's NT Commentary
- Alford's Greek Testament Commentary
- Meyer's Commentary
- Mahan's Commentary
- Bible Study NT
- Bengel's Gnomon
- People's NT
- Robertson's Word Pictures
- Schaff's NT Commentary
- Vincent's Studies
- Burkitt's Expository Notes
- Daily Study Bible
- Pink's Commentary
- Box on Selected Books
- Hampton's Commentary
- Haldane on Romans and Hebrews
- Smith's Writings
- International Critical
- Ironside's Notes
- Owen on Hebrews
- Layman's Bible Commentary
- Restoration Commentary
- Utley Commentary
- Kelly Commentary
- Newell's Commentary
- Zerr's N.T. Commentary
Jesus’ Superiority to Moses
From the first verse, the Apostle Paul begins to prove Jesus’ superiority over Moses. In making this comparison, he is careful not to disparage Moses in any way; instead, he proves the greatness of Moses and then illustrates how Jesus is even greater than Moses or any of the other prophets.
Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;
Wherefore, holy brethren: The term "Wherefore" indicates not only that what is to come is a conclusion based upon what Paul has just written but also that he is introducing a new subject. Having proved Jesus is superior to the prophets, he now shows He is superior even to Moses. Paul’s goal is for the Hebrew Christians to recognize Jesus’ superior position as our Savior, placing Him above all who went before Him in the Old Testament.
In addressing these fellow believers as "holy brethren," Paul shows his affection for them and his personal recognition that they are his "own" brethren (adelphos) in Christ; they are fellow Christians who are likeminded. They and Paul are one with Jesus. By using the adjective "holy" (hagios) to describe them, Paul indicates their relationship to Christ as the Redeemer. Furthermore, the words "holy brethren" (hagios adelphos) do not suggest that Paul believes these Hebrews have attained perfection as Christians; instead, he uses "holy brethren" in the same way he uses the term "saints" when referring to the Corinthian Christians (1 Corinthians 1:2). Even though he can appropriately call them "saints" and "holy brethren," Paul recognizes that all Christians are not perfect and often lack spiritual growth; but they are people who have professed their faith in Jesus Christ, having believed the gospel message and having become His followers. They have expressed their faith that Jesus died for their sins and three days later arose according to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). They are "worshippers of God, taking the place of God’s O.T. people, as called and consecrated to ethical and spiritual service according to the Christian ideal" (Vincent 409); and they have put on Christ through baptism:
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).
partakers of the heavenly calling: Referring to these Hebrew Christians as "partakers" (metochos) of the heavenly calling, as in the reference to them as "holy brethren," does not indicate their conduct is always pleasing to God; instead, "partakers of the heavenly calling" refers to their relationship to Jesus as the heavenly commissioned One, sent by God to call man to salvation. Being "partakers of the heavenly calling" also illustrates the unity Christians "share" (Thayer 407) in the heavenly calling. The adjective "heavenly" (epouranios) refers to a spiritual call, one from heaven itself:
This calling, however, is termed epouranios ("heavenly" wmb) either because the blessings, the possession of which it promises, are existent in heaven and of heavenly nature ….or, what is more probable, because they have come to men from heaven….where God their supreme author has His throne, and whence Christ their proclaimer and procurer was sent forth. It is possible, however, that both references are to be combined: "a calling which proceeds from heaven and leads to heaven" (Meyer’s Commentary on New Testament, 456).
Paul emphasizes it is critical for Christians not to neglect this calling from heaven (see 1:2; 2:3). Later in this letter, Paul warns those who are in danger of rejecting the call. He says, "See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven" (12:25). In writing to the church in Philippi, Paul emphasizes this same "calling":
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).
This "calling" (klesis) refers to "the divine invitation to embrace salvation in the kingdom of God, which is made especially through the preaching of the gospel. (This calling) "was made in heaven by God on the ground of Christ" (Thayer 350). It is the same calling that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 7:17-20, indicating it is an invitation or a summons, used metonymically in reference to the state or condition into which one is called:
In this passage, the word calling evidently refers to the social rank and secular condition of each individual when he was called of God to partake of the "heavenly calling"; some were Jews and some were Gentiles, some were slaves and some were freeman. The "heavenly calling," according to Paul, is not designed to nullify and set aside arbitrarily and unconditionally all such distinctions. The Jew, though converted to Christ, might nevertheless consistently remain in circumcision; and the Gentile, in uncircumcision. In this metonymical sense the word calling is used in our text to denote, not merely God’s gracious invitation to sinners, but also and more particularly the benefits of this invitation; having special reference to the present state and condition of those who, in obedience to God’s call, have put on Christ as he is offered to us in the Gospel (Milligan 134).
By using the adjective, "heavenly," Paul is not referring to just any "calling" but rather to a dominant call from God in heaven.
consider the Apostle: The Hebrew Christians are on the threshold of departing from Jesus and returning to their prior traditions; therefore, Paul solemnly warns them against it and encourages them to "consider" Jesus as "the Apostle" of God. The word "consider" (katanoesate) means to be "attentive" (Vincent 410) or "to fix the mind on" (Robertson 353). Paul is encouraging Christians to give careful attention to Jesus and to His message from God. Paul’s plea is not only for Christians to think about Jesus as a person but to contemplate carefully His revelations, as well as everything else about Him:
Our author makes here an earnest appeal to his Hebrew brethren to consider well all that he had said, and all that he was about to say, concerning Christ; to think of his Divinity, his humanity, his sufferings, his death, his burial, his resurrection, his ascension, his glorification, his universal dominion, his love, his sympathies, and every other attribute and perfection of his character (Milligan 134-135).
For the first and only time in the New Testament, Jesus is identified as "the Apostle" (apostolos). Generally, the title of "apostle" in the New Testament is applied to the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ; however, the term "apostle," meaning one who is sent, is also applied in a broader sense to other well-known Christians such as Barnabas (Acts 14:14) and Timothy and Silvanus (1 Thessalonians 2:6). It appears Paul addresses Jesus as the "Apostle" to lead to a comparison between Jesus and Moses. The word "apostle" itself denotes one who is "a delegate," "a messenger," or "one sent forth with orders" (Thayer 68). Thayer further says Paul is writing here of "the apostle whom we confess, of Christ, God’s chief messenger, who has brought the klesis epouranios ("heavenly calling"), as compared with Moses, whom the Jews confess" (68). Thus, in this sense, Moses is also an "apostle" of God, a messenger of God, sent with the orders to lead God’s people from Egyptian bondage to the land of Canaan.
Jesus is identified as "the Apostle" of God because God sent Him to earth as the Savior of mankind (1 John 4:14). While Moses is never actually identified by the noun "apostle" in the scriptures, he is recognized as one "sent" by God. Oftentimes in the Greek Old Testament, Moses’ action is described by the verb "sent" or "send" (apostello), which is the verb form of the noun translated "apostle" in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews. Speaking of Moses, the scriptures record:
Come now therefore, and I will send (apostello), thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt. And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain. And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent (apostello), me unto you. And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent (apostello), me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations (Exodus 3:10-15) (compare Exodus 4:28; Exodus 5:22; Exodus 7:16).
Therefore, Jesus and Moses are acknowledged as having been sent by God as an "apostle"; however, Paul will continue to prove that Jesus’ ministry is far superior to Moses’.
and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus: While encouraging the Hebrews to consider Jesus as an Apostle of God, Paul further urges them to consider Him as "High Priest," comparing Him to Aaron. Paul first identifies Jesus as "High Priest" in chapter two, verse 17. He brings it up again here for their consideration; but he will pause to complete the comparison of Jesus with Moses; and then, beginning with chapter four, verse 14, he will speak at great length of Jesus’ superiority to other high priests. Paul says Jesus is the High Priest (archiereus) of our "profession" (homologia), referring to a Christian’s confession of Jesus Christ. Peter states this confession when he says, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). Paul refers to this same confession in his first letter to Timothy:
Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession (1 Timothy 6:12-13).
Paul speaks of "our" profession to distinguish a Christian’s confession from Judaism. He is drawing their minds to the Christians’ profession, suggesting Jesus is the One "whom we profess to be ours" (Thayer 446), that is, as Christians we confess Jesus as our "High Priest" because He died for the sins of man:
In the Epistle to the Hebrews Christ is called "high-priest," because by undergoing a bloody death he offered himself as an expiatory sacrifice to God, and has entered the heavenly sanctuary where he continually intercedes on our behalf: 2:17; 3:1; 4:14; 5:10; 6:20; 7:26; 8:1; 9:11 (Thayer 78).
For a detailed explanation of Jesus as "High Priest," see comments beginning with verse 14.
Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.
Who was faithful to him that appointed him: "Faithful" (pistos) is defined as "trusty" (Thayer 514); therefore, Paul speaks of the trustworthiness of Jesus Christ. Jesus was "faithful" to God who "appointed" Him as Apostle and High Priest.
God personally chose Jesus. The word "appointed" (poieo) comes from the same Greek word translated "ordained" in reference to Jesus’ choosing the twelve apostles. Mark, speaking of Jesus, says, "And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach" (3:14).
Jesus came to this world to fulfill God’s Will. Jesus says, "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work" (John 4:34). "God has made Jesus both the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; and in the discharge of all the duties appertaining to these sacred functions, he (Jesus) has always been faithful" (Milligan 137). Jesus was always faithful in all areas of His life; however, in the context of this chapter, Paul is not referring to any one specific act of Jesus’ life. Instead, he is speaking of Jesus’ faithfulness compared to Moses’ faithfulness. Dods explains this fact clearly:
The fidelity of Jesus is illustrated not by incidents from His life nor by the crowning proof given in His death, nor is it argued from the admitted perfections of His character, but in accordance with the plan of the Epistle it is merely compared to that of Moses, and its superiority is implied in the superiority of the Son to the servant (272).
as also Moses was faithful in all his house: In proving that Jesus is superior to Moses, Paul does not make derogatory remarks about Moses. As Jesus was "faithful" to God, Paul says so was Moses. Paul’s reference to Moses’ faithfulness likely refers to Numbers 12:7, "My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house."
Moses, Paul says, was faithful "in all his house." The word "his" does not refer to Moses; instead, the antecedent of the pronoun "his" is God; therefore, the word "house" alludes to the house of God or the family of God, that is, the church of the Israelites that was God’s ancient dwelling place. God, speaking to Moses, says, "And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them" (Exodus 25:8). Again, God says, "And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God" (Exodus 29:45). From such passages, there can be no doubt that Paul’s reference to house is to the house of Israel, sometimes referred to as "the church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38).
The term "house," in the Old and New Testaments, is often used to refer to the church, which is God’s house. While Paul here shows that Moses was faithful in God’s house, the church of the Old Testament; later in this chapter, he refers to Jesus’ faithfulness in God’s "house," that is, the church of the New Testament. He says, "But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end" (3:6). Kendrick emphasizes the truth that Moses was over a temporal house while Jesus is over the spiritual house:
Moses led out the people of God from the temporal, Christ from the spiritual, Egypt. Moses was God’s ancient apostle to Israel, of temporal salvation; Christ his recent Apostle of spiritual salvation. Moses founded by God’s express appointment, the ancient household of Israel, with its laws, ritual, and ministry; Christ founded, by like divine appointment, the household of the spiritual Israel, with its laws, rites, and ministry. Each household thus founded by command of God was a house of God. Moses was faithful in all God’s house, in or over which he was appointed; Christ, in like manner, in and over all God’s New Testament house (45-46).
In verse 1, Paul compares Moses’ and Jesus’ faithfulness to God who placed each of them in his position; however, Jesus is superior to Moses because Jesus was faithful as a Son and Moses was faithful as a servant (see verses 5 and 6). Vincent agrees as he states: "The general sense of the comparison is that Moses was as faithful as any servant in a house can be, while Christ was not a servant in the house, but a son, and displayed his fidelity in that capacity" (411).
For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.
For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses: In the preceding verse, Paul shows a comparison between Jesus and Moses; however, as Milligan says, he now proves the infinite superiority of Jesus:
Our author, wishing to compare Christ with Moses, refers first with great delicacy and propriety to one point in which they may within certain limits be regarded as equal. They were both faithful to him who appointed them, in their proper spheres of labor. But having conceded so much, the Apostle now proceeds to show that the difference between them is really infinite (139).
"This man" is the person who is the subject under consideration, that is, Jesus. Jesus is "counted worthy" (axioo) of more glory than Moses. To be "counted worthy" (axioo) refers to the reward that is due a person. The reward suggested in this verse is "honor." The person who has more honor is superior. The words "more glory" (pleion) in the first part of verse 3 (referring to Jesus) and the words "more honour" (time) in the second part of the verse (referring to Moses) come from different Greek words; however, both words have similar meanings. Paul probably uses different words for the sake of variety. In verse 1 Paul shows Jesus and Moses are similar because they both are called by God to be an Apostle; they are similar because they both are faithful to God; and now, Paul shows that Jesus and Moses are similar because they both have honor.
inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house: The word "inasmuch" means "in the same way"; thus, Paul is teaching that Jesus and Moses are similar in that they share similar traits. For example, they both have honor; however, Jesus is superior because, as Paul says, He also has "more" glory. "This glory of Jesus is as much greater than that of Moses, as the cause is greater than the effect, the builder than the house" (Dods 272). Paul uses a wonderful example to show the superiority of Jesus when he portrays Jesus as a builder, that is, the One "establishing" (The New Testament for English Readers 1470) the house; and Moses as part of the house that Jesus built, that is, a servant in the house. In the same way that a person building a house is superior to the house he is building, Jesus is more important than Moses. Vincent explains "that Moses was a part of the O.T. system – a servant in the house; while Christ, as one with God who established all things, was the founder and establisher of both the Old and the New Testament economies" (411). Dods is correct in his explanation that Paul identifies Jesus with the builder of the house while identifying Moses as part of the house:
In the present verse it has its most comprehensive meaning, and includes the planning, building, and filling of the house with furniture and with a household. The household is more directly in view than the house. The argument involves that Jesus is identified with the builder of the house, while Moses is considered a part of the house. It is the Son (who in those last Days has spoken God’s word to men through the lips of Jesus), who in former times also fulfilled God’s purpose by building His house and creating for Him a people. And lest the readers of the epistle should object that Moses was as much the builder of the old as Jesus of the new, the writer lifts their mind from the management of the system or Church to the creation of it (273).
For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God.
For every house is builded by some man: This is an obvious statement that no one can deny: if a house is built, it is built by some man. This statement is true regardless of whether the writer is speaking of a literal house or a spiritual house; however, as noticed in verse 3, the "house" contextually refers to God’s house, the church including everything that makes up the "house" (the church). Alford explains this idea:
So that to this establishment of the house belong servants, male and female; and so here we may say that the servants of the house are included. The sense then is this: just as he who has built and furnished a home, for himself namely, as master of the house, - stands higher in honour than the house itself and the individual servants, so does Christ higher than Moses: and Christ is thus represented as he who has prepared the house of God [and therefore as its lord], to whom Moses also belongs as an individual servant (The New Testament for English Readers 1471).
but he that built all things is God: Vincent, speaking of the word "built," says:
…the verb includes not only erection, but furnishing with the entire equipment...Christ is the establisher, but not by any independent will or agency. As the Son he is he that built, but it is as one with God who built all things. The special foundership of Christ does not contradict or exclude the general foundership of God (411-412).
God, through Jesus, built the house, the church, both of the Old Testament and the New Testament; and Moses was a servant of the Old Testament church. "The Church both of the Old and New Testament; and the building of such a house includes all the preparations of Providence and grace made to furnish it with ’living stones,’ and ’servants’ " (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown 528). Paul writes of God’s house as "God’s building" when he explains how the church grew. In writing the first recorded letter to the Corinthians, Paul says:
I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building (1 Corinthians 3:6-9).
The Apostle Peter, likewise, writes of Christians’ being a "spiritual house":
To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-5).
Jesus Christ, as the builder and founder of the church, is greater than the house constructed, including the servants; therefore, Jesus is greater than Moses, who was but a "servant" in God’s house.
And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after;
And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant: By the word "And" Paul introduces a further development of his teaching in verses 2 and 3 dealing with trustworthiness and honor. Jesus and Moses both were trustworthy and both had honor; however, Paul points out that Jesus is superior because Moses had these traits as a "servant" of a house; but, as seen in the next verse, Jesus has these traits as a "son" of the house. The word "servant" (therapon) refers to Moses, not in a derogatory matter as a slave, but as "an attendant" of God. Moses was a servant by "discharging the duties committed to him by God" (Thayer 289). Referring to Moses as a "servant" does not debase him. He is to be commended for his faithfulness to God as a servant. Moses was called by God to be His servant, and he was unsurpassed in the role to which God called him. Paul does not degrade Moses because he was a servant, but he praises and commends him. Later in this letter, in the chapter known as the hall of faith, he says:
By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible. Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them. By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned (11:24-29).
for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after: Paul says Moses’ faithful service to God was for a "testimony" (marturion) or as a witness of things God would teach later. "The writer more probably means that Moses’ whole work, especially the way in which he showed himself trustworthy as the leader of God’s people, pointed ahead to greater things that God was to say in the future through the Son" (Ellingworth and Nida 56), that is, the things that were to be spoken in the New Testament revelation by Jesus. Moses often spoke of Jesus and His work; and in the Gospel of John, Jesus, speaking to people who doubted that He was the Messiah, reminds them that Moses testified about Him, "For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?" (John 5:46-47). "Moses’ position was merely typical and preparatory—he had the shadow of which Christ brought the substance; he, like John, merely bore testimony to the great truths afterward to be uttered" (Kendrick 47-48).
But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.
But Christ as a son over his own house: The "house" belongs to God, not Christ. The word "own," added in the translation of the King James Version, has caused confusion; thus, the Revised Standard Version better translates: "but Christ was faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if we hold fast our confidence and pride in our hope." Likewise, the New International Version renders, "But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast." In chapter ten, the Apostle Paul, speaking of Jesus as our High Priest, states, "And having an high priest over the house of God " (10:21).
This phrase, "Christ as a son over his own house," proves the superiority of Jesus over Moses because while Moses was as great a servant "in" God’s house as one could be, Jesus is the Son "over" God’s house and the High Priest over God’s house. Later in this same letter, Paul refers to Jesus, saying:
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water (10:19-22).
Kendrick provides information on the superiority of Jesus over Moses:
Moses, therefore, elevated as he was, chosen leader and head of ancient Israel, into whose allegiance they had undergone the profound baptism of the Red Sea, was, after all, but in the house of God and a part of it. Christ, although sunk to the depths of humiliation, was, after all, over the house of God, and its real Head. Moses, apparent founder and head of the house was but a part of the household; Christ, apparently a Servant of the servants, rises, as the Son of God into equality with the Founder and becomes, in the last analysis, supreme, as well as subordinate, heavenly, as well as earthly, divine, as well as human, Builder of the New Testament house. He has as much higher honor than Moses as the Founder of the house has more honor than the house (47).
whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end: The pronoun "we" stands representatively here for all believers; however, contextually Paul intends to point his readers to their own special situation above their forefathers. "We," Christians, make up God’s house, the church; that is, Christians are God’s people; the family of God. The "house" belongs to God. In writing to Timothy, Paul says, "But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15).
Paul indicates, however, there is a stipulation for people to continue to be recognized as God’s people. He warns that Christians are God’s house (God’s people) IF we "hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end." The words "hold fast" (katecho) are defined as to "keep secure, keep firm possession of" (Thayer 340) and are used in the sense of "holding one’s course toward" (Vincent 414). A Christian must not give up on the Christian life; he must not revert to his previous life before he became a child of God. He should keep focused on Jesus Christ and Him crucified. In writing to the church at Corinth, Paul says, "By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:2).
Paul is writing this letter because these Christians are on the verge of apostasy—of leaving Jesus and the New Testament teaching; therefore, Paul reminds them they are of God’s family only IF they stay with Jesus and keep the faith they have accepted. If they leave Jesus, they leave God and they leave God’s house. The word "confidence" (parrhesia) refers to a Christian’s "cheerful courage," (Thayer 491). Christians must continue to express their faith in Jesus openly and forthrightly without trying to hide it. Paul speaks of this same type of "confidence" or courage later in this letter when he states, "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (4:16). In chapter ten he says, "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus" (10:19). "Confidence" unto the end is paramount for the Christian. Paul warns Christians to "Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward" (10:35).
Christians must also hold fast the "rejoicing" (kauchema) of the hope (elpis) of their salvation firm unto the end. "The hope" refers to what we look forward to; that is, eternal life in heaven. Thayer defines a Christian’s "rejoicing," as "confident expectation of eternal salvation" (205). A child of God must never lose confidence in the hope of his salvation. Vincent, in his work, says:
The thought here is that the condition of being and continuing the house of God is the holding fast of the hope in Christ…and in the consummation of God’s kingdom in him; making these the ground of boasting; exultantly confessing and proclaiming this hope. There must be, not only confidence, but joyful confidence (414).
Paul apparently fears the fate of the wilderness-generation may be repeated in the experiences of these Hebrew Christians; therefore, he repeats over and over again the dangers of apostasy and refers to many illustrations in the Old Testament to prove how God’s children who abandoned Him were doomed in the wilderness. "The exhortation to faith is thrown into the form of warning against unbelief" (Vincent 414). Paul mentions the possibility of apostasy throughout this letter:
Hebrews 3:14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;
Hebrews 6:11 And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:
Hebrews 10:36-37 For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.
Hebrews 12:3 For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.
Hebrews 12:4 Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.
Solemn Warning against Christians Repeating
the Rebellion of the Israelites
Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice,
Wherefore: The word "Wherefore" is connected with verse 12. The rest of verse 7 down through verse 11 is a parenthetical statement; therefore, Paul’s next topic is a stern warning to caution these Hebrew Christians not to depart from God as their ancestors did. He wants his readers to reflect on the history of their forefathers. The word "Wherefore" also shows that Paul is about to give an incentive to faithfulness, persistence, and steadfastness. The enticement is the promise land, heaven; the consequence of failure is punishment. One needs to read the words in parenthesis to see Paul’s warning: "Wherefore…Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God."
(as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice: Paul quotes from Psalms 95:7-11 in which David pleads for his brethren to worship and obey God. Notice David’s encouraging message to God’s children:
O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms (Psalms 95:1-2).
Following this encouraging plea, David gives logical reasons for his brethren to worship and obey God:
For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also. The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land. O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice (Psalms 95:3-7).
Finally, in this Psalm, David emphatically warns that the consequences of failing to worship and obey God can be seen in the history of the lives and deaths of the entire generation of their fathers who perished in the wilderness:
Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest (Psalms 95:8-11).
The Apostle Paul reminds the Hebrew Christians that the words of David in Psalms 95 originated from the Holy Ghost, that is, "the Holy Ghost saith" to heed God’s Word. Referring to the teaching of the Holy Ghost is a common expression by New Testament writers. The Apostle Peter, speaking about the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy regarding Jesus’ betrayer, says, "Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus (Acts 1:16). Later in this letter, Paul writes about God’s laws being written in our hearts, and says, "Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before" (10:15). The Apostle Peter refers to the work of the Holy Ghost in prophecy saying, "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:21).
Paul exhorts Christians to hear (implying obedience) God’s voice and encourages them to hear and obey "today" (semeron), which is "emphatical, meaning, ’at this very time’ " (Bloomfield 480). God, through the inspired writers, has never encouraged people to obey Him tomorrow or at a time in the future. His commands have always been to obey NOW! When Paul writes to the Christians in the church in Corinth, he gives the same admonition to obey Jesus now: "I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2). Furthermore, a careful reading of the books of Acts will detail how that in every case of conversion, sinners, after hearing God’s message, repented and confessed their faith in Jesus Christ and were baptized immediately—no one ever waited until the next day:
Acts 2:41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
Acts 16:33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.
Acts 18:8 And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.
Acts 22:12-16 And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there, Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him. And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
The Israelites sinned by not trusting in God; however, they had an opportunity to change their actions when, through the Holy Spirit, the message came: "Today if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts" (Psalms 95:7-8). Likewise, the same is true with the Hebrew Christians. They are in sin for not trusting Jesus; they are in danger of leaving Jesus and returning to Moses, but they still have a chance to be saved; therefore, Paul exhorts them to persevere in faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Paul parallels the state of the Jews in the wilderness as they followed Moses from Egypt toward the land of Canaan with the family of God under the gospel in the New Testament. Christians accept, follow, and obey Jesus Christ as they leave the sins of the world heading toward the heavenly Canaan, spoken of as "rest" in verses 11 and 18 of this chapter. Bloomfield states that in both cases God’s mercy does not save anyone who does not remain faithful to Him:
The promise of the earthly rest, given by Moses to the Israelites, is paralleled with the glad tidings preached by Christ in the gospel. The grace and mercy shown to the Israelites is paralleled with that vouchsafed to us Christians; and the important lesson inculcated, that as that grace was meant to produce in them faith and obedience, so was that to us designed to keep us faithfully devoted to God and the Gospel. Also, that as the message of mercy did not profit them, because (they were) not embraced in faith; nay, even increased their condemnation, and brought them under God’s wrath unto temporal destruction; so we Christians, by the same evil heart of unbelief, may incur God’s wrath unto perdition (480).
Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
Paul warns the Hebrew Christians not to "harden" their hearts as did those who followed Moses into the wilderness and perished. To "harden" (skleruno) one’s heart is "to render obstinate" (Thayer 579), that is, to be stubborn in disobedience. They know what they need to do to obey Christ, but they wait. Paul’s message is not to be stubborn, not to wait even one day.
In the Greek language, the word "provocation" (parapikrasmos) literally means to "anger" (Thayer 485) God, and the word "temptation" (peirasmos) refers to a "trial of God, by which his power and justice are, as it were, put to the proof and challenged to show themselves" (Thayer 499). In the Hebrew language, the words translated "provocation" and "temptation" here refer to the place where the provocation and temptation occurred. Moses actually calls these places Meribah (mriybah), referring to "a fountain flowing from a rock in the desert of Sin on the Heroopolitan gulf" (Gesenius 509) and Massah (maccah), denoting "a temptation of Jehovah is i.q. (equivalent to, wmb) a complaining against him" (Gesenius 489). These are places where the Israelites committed specific sins as they crossed the wilderness. Moses records, "And of Levi he said, Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with thy holy one, whom thou didst prove at Massah, and with whom thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah" (Deuteronomy 33:8). Paul specifically has reference to the Israelites’ sin of stubbornness and unbelief as they crossed the wilderness, as is recorded by Moses:
And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink. Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the LORD? And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me. And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not? (Exodus 17:1-7).
Other recordings of the Israelites’ sins are found in Numbers 20:1-13 when they complained against God about the lack of water to drink (see Deuteronomy 33:8).
There were at least five major times that the Jews provoked and tested the patience of God as they journeyed through the wilderness:
Exodus 16:2 And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.
Exodus 32:10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.
Numbers 11:32-35 And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails: he that gathered least gathered ten homers: and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp. And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague. And he called the name of that place Kibroth-hattaavah: because there they buried the people that lusted. And the people journeyed from Kibroth-hattaavah unto Hazeroth; and abode at Hazeroth.
Numbers 14:29 Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me.
Because of the sins on these five occasions, the Lord God made the final decision to prohibit the Israelites from entering the land of Canaan:
And the LORD heard the voice of your words, and was wroth, and sware, saying, Surely there shall not one of these men of this evil generation see that good land, which I sware to give unto your fathers, Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him will I give the land that he hath trodden upon, and to his children, because he hath wholly followed the LORD. Also the LORD was angry with me for your sakes, saying, Thou also shalt not go in thither. But Joshua the son of Nun, which standeth before thee, he shall go in thither: encourage him: for he shall cause Israel to inherit it (Deuteronomy 1:34-38).
When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.
Milligan compares the Hebrew, Greek, and English languages within this verse:
The Hebrew of this verse is literally rendered into English as follows: Where [expressive of either the place where or the time when] your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work. The Textus Receptus of Elzevir runs thus: Where [hou, where or when] your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. This differs from the Hebrew only in the two following unimportant particulars: (1) in the Hebrew, the noun work is singular; but in the Greek, the corresponding word is plural; (2) in the Hebrew, the expression, forty years, is according to the Masoretic pointing, connected with what follows, as in the seventeenth verse of this chapter; but in the Greek, it qualifies the preceding verb saw. These slight differences do not, however, in any way affect the sense of the passage, the meaning being obviously the same in both the Hebrew and the Greek (147).
When your fathers tempted me: The word translated "When" is better translated "Where," for Paul is speaking of the specific places where certain sins took place, that is, "Massah, and Meribah." By the term "fathers" (pater), Paul speaks of the "Jewish forefathers of these Hebrew Christians" (Fudge 16) to whom God spoke through the prophets (1:1). These forefathers "tempted" God. The term "tempted" (peirazo) refers to the "impious or wicked conduct to test God’s justice and patience, and to challenge him, as it were, to give proof of his perfections" (Thayer 498).
proved me: God’s children of the Old Testament also "proved" (dokimazo) Him, signifying they were presumptuously "putting (Him) to the proof" (Thayer 154).
and saw my works forty years: The Israelites tested God, continually wanting Him to prove Himself, even though, as God says, they "saw my works forty years." God’s "works" (ergon) of which Paul speaks denote the miraculous works produced for their preservation and protection in Egypt and their sustenance in the wilderness. God’s miraculous works were a display of His power. At times these works were a bestowal of mercy when they repented; at other times, they came in the form of punishment for their sins throughout their forty year’s journey in the wilderness. In spite of their experiences, in spite of God’s delivering them from their enemies, in spite of God’s mercy upon them, they persisted in demanding Him to prove that He would take care of them. The Israelites had personally witnessed enough of God’s miracles in delivering them from dangerous situations and they had witnessed enough of His repeated mercy that they should have been convinced that He would provide for them; but they continued with their unreasonable complaining attitude.
The "forty years" of which Paul speaks are the forty years the Israelites traveled across the wilderness. The actual trip from Egypt to Canaan would not have taken forty years; however, God punished them for their disobedience, complaining attitude, and lack of confidence in Him by requiring one year for every day (forty days) that the spies searched the land of Canaan. Moses records this event:
And they returned from searching of the land after forty days…And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight. And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt? And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.
…And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness. After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise (Numbers 13:25, 32-14:1-4, 33-34).
Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.
Wherefore I was grieved with that generation: Because of the constant complaining of His children during their forty year journey across the wilderness, God was "grieved with" (prosochthizo) that generation, that is, God was "displeased with" them (Thayer 549).
And said, They do alway err in their heart: God’s displeasure with His children was that, instead of trusting Him, they would "always err" in their heart (planao), being "led aside from the path of virtue; (thus they would) wander away (into) sin" (Thayer 514). God’s children in the wilderness committed sin "in their heart." The term "heart" is here used figuratively to mean the place of affection. The expression to sin "in their heart" is used in the same way as the expressions: "We speak of a willing heart," "One has an understanding heart," or "an obedient heart." The expression refers to one’s moral nature—the way one acts. Sinning in the heart is the beginning point of all disobedience because all sin begins in the heart, and then it is put into action. Kendrick concludes that the Israelites began by talking ("murmuring against God"); later their talk was put into actions, and they actually left God. Finally, God withdrew the offer of the promised land:
The Israelites began their murmurings against God and Moses early (Exodus 17), but constantly repeated them; proved themselves hard and intractable; and, finally, by their unbelief and cowardice, on the very border of the promised land provoked God to turn them back and destroy them (Kendrick 51).
and they have not known my ways: The Israelites saw the miracles of God, they witnessed His provision for them; however, when things did not go the way they wanted them to go, they departed from Him, proving their ignorance. Their ignorance does not mean they had no knowledge of God’s way, but as Bloomfield states, "they have not known my ways" "implies not simple ignorance, but the not caring to know, or even disapproval, as far as they might know" (481).
So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)
The phrase, "So I sware in my wrath" is a figurative expression indicating God is determined that those who refuse to follow Him should not enter into the land of Canaan.
The word "rest" in the scriptures has a double meaning. At times, as here in this verse, the writer refers to the "rest" after the wilderness journey when they reach the promised land (Canaan) (see Deuteronomy 12:9-10); this "rest" is a type of the heavenly rest to come in eternity. Thayer explains that the term "rest" (katapausis) in this verse and verse 18 is used metaphorically to denote "the heavenly blessedness in which God dwells, and of which he has promised to make persevering believers in Christ partakers after the toils and trials of life on earth are ended" (335). Most of God’s children who left Egypt and followed Moses into the wilderness did not make it to the land of Canaan because of their sins:
Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it: But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it. (Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley.) To morrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea. And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me. Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the LORD, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you: Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me, Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun (Numbers 14:22-30).
Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
Take heed, brethren: The warning, "take heed" (blepo), is a typical plea for the Hebrew Christians to think carefully, "to consider," (or to) "contemplate" their actions (Thayer 103) however, "take heed" implies more than just thinking about their deeds. Paul is emphasizing for them to be cautious of their apostatizing from the living God. He is begging for his readers to think about their forefathers who perished in the wilderness because of their murmuring, complaining, and disobedience to God. Bloomfield states:
The general sense is: "Beware, brethren, of an evil unbelieving heart, such as the Israelites possessed, lest, like them, you apostatize from the living God; lest you apostatize from the religion of Christ which he has required you to receive and maintain, and thus perish like ancient Israel, who revolted from God" (481).
lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God: The emphasis in this phrase is on the pronoun, "you" so as to take the readers’ minds away from the actions of the Israelites and apply the same consequences to their own lives. Paul’s warning is to make his readers realize that if they develop "an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" they, too, will perish and miss their reward, heaven. One who has an "evil" (poneros) heart is one who has a "bad nature or condition" and refers to the person’s "conscious wickedness" (Thayer 530). This "unbelief" (apistia) refers to faithlessness and manifests itself in disobedience and corruption because of stubbornness. The phrase "departing from the living God" implies "to fall away" from God (Thayer 89). Paul is not referring to a single act of disobedience but instead to their act of apostatizing. His warning is that a child of God can become so corrupted by not trusting Jesus that he can completely forsake and eventually abandon Him.
But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
But exhort one another daily: As a way to help God’s children avoid departure from the living God, Paul encourages them to "exhort" (parakaleo) each other, meaning "to admonish" (Thayer 482) one another on a daily basis. To "exhort" another Christian implies teaching, admonition, and entreaty. The command to "exhort one another daily" applies not only to preachers, evangelists, and elders, but to every Christian. Every individual Christian must watch the lives and actions of other Christians and caution them when they begin to depart from God’s way. Bloomfield is correct as he concludes that "the important truth, that our faith is especially confirmed by mutual exhortation; implying, that as a means to prevent apostasy, they should thus mutually strengthen each other" (481). The neglect of Christian exhortation is probably the major reason for a Christian’s leaving Jesus today.
while it is called To day: Paul’s instruction here warns every Christian not to procrastinate. The consequences of not remaining faithful to God and the teachings of Jesus Christ are severe; therefore, "while" or so long as God gives us a day in which to live, every Christian must encourage every other Christian to remain faithful to Jesus. By the use of the word "Today," Paul is emphasizing the urgency of their situation. Because of the Christian’s goal to reach heaven, his "rest," it is important for him to exhort other Christians as long as God blesses him with another day of life.
lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin: Paul is specifically encouraging Christians to watch over each other to avoid becoming "hardened," that is, stubborn and callous in regards to sin. Sin is deceitful in the sense that it is not always recognizable. Paul, in writing to Christians in Ephesus, says, "That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts" (Ephesians 4:22). The specific sin to which Paul refers is unbelief culminating in apostasy, distrust, and abandonment of God. Paul says that if Christians will work together and care for each other, they can help each other from departing from God. In other words, it is better to help a person to avoid sin than to have to work to restore the person once he leaves God.
For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;
For we are made partakers of Christ: The Apostle Paul enforces his exhortation by mentioning the greatness of the reward offered to us, that is, being "made partakers of Christ" by obedience. Those who are "partakers" (metochos) refer to those who are "sharing in" something (Thayer 407). In this place, it is the sharing of salvation that comes only through Jesus Christ. "Partakers of Christ" denotes a spiritual union with Christ, implying participation in the benefits of His gospel. The Apostle John says:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-3).
if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end: After being "made" partakers of Christ, Christians are required to do certain things to retain their salvation. In verse 1 of this chapter, Paul addresses the "holy brethren" as being "partakers of the heavenly calling." Now, Paul gives a stipulation for remaining "partakers of Christ." Every Christian must examine his own life to insure he is faithful to Christ. For a Christian to be a partaker of the benefits that come through Jesus, he must "hold the beginning of (his) confidence(s) stedfast unto the end." To hold the "beginning" (arche) refers to continuing with the "origin" (Thayer 76), that is, the original confidence that one had in Christ when he first became a Christian. Holding the beginning also implies not neglecting our great salvation that we heard from the beginning. These Hebrew Christians had that confidence when they first obeyed. The Apostle Paul later in this letter refers to their past zeal in Christ when he says:
For God is not unrighteous to forget, your work and labour of love which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister...For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward (6:10; 10:34-35).
Christians must "continue to the end of life to exercise such confidence in Christ as you had at first, and you shall obtain the reward which he has promised" (Bloomfield 481). In the previous chapter, Paul’s plea is for Christians to hold on to the principles they have been taught and not to neglect their "great salvation." His message in this verse is that they are to have "confidence" (hupostasis) in them. They must have "firm trust" (Thayer 645) in Jesus’ teachings, and, therefore, be "steadfast" (bebaios) or "stable (and) "unshaken" (Thayer 99) until the "end" (telos), meaning until "the end of all things" (Thayer 620). Thus, Paul says that for Christians to share in the spiritual blessings that come only through Jesus, they must trust in the original teachings of Jesus and persevere in obedience to these teachings unto death or until the end of this world. The Apostle John warns God’s children to remain faithful, saying, "…hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown" (Revelation 3:11). Paul continues this thought of perseverance all the way through this epistle to the Hebrews. As he nears the end of this letter, he says, "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever" (13:8).
While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.
It appears that this verse connects not only with the previous verses but with verses that follow. Paul confirms what he says in verses 12 and 13 and uses these words as an introduction to the rest of this chapter that teach about entering or not entering the promise land, "His rest."
"While it is said, Today" means the same as "While it is called Today" in verse 13, indicating that as long as there is time that a person can say it is "today," he must do as he is instructed. Paul’s message to Christians is that as long as they live they must be willing to hear, accept, and obey Jesus’ teaching. The words "if ye will hear his voice" signify if they are disposed to hear His voice, that is, the Lord’s warnings, they should not harden their hearts as did the Israelites during their crossing of the wilderness. Paul warns God’s children once again never to become stubborn in obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses.
Some translations (RV, NIV, RSV, NKJV, ASV, and most others) better render this verse as an interrogative sentence. For example, the New King James Version has the better punctuation rendering: "For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses?" The purpose of verses 16 and 17 is to draw the readers’ minds to the number of those who forfeited the "rest" of Canaan and perished under the wrath of God.
Paul makes a specific appeal to his readers about a fact they well knew. He is reminding them by these questions that almost every person whom God loved and rescued from Egypt did "provoke" (parapikraino) or "exasperate" God (Thayer 485) by their disobedience; consequently, they perished before reaching the promised land of Canaan. Paul is not suggesting that everyone died in the wilderness. There were exceptions such as Joshua, Caleb, and a few others who made the entire journey from Egypt to Canaan. The Lord says, "…And there was not left a man of them, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun" (Numbers 26:65).
But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness?
God was "grieved" (prosochthizo) or "displeased with" (Thayer 549) those who had sinned in the wilderness. The word "sinned" (Hamartano) means "to wander from the law of God (or) violate God’s law" (Thayer 30). God had taken these people by the hand and led them from Egypt; however, Paul is teaching that these people, even though they knew God, wandered away from Him and their "carcases fell in the wilderness," indicating they died in the wilderness because of their transgressions. The Old Testament is plain regarding those whom God left in the wilderness because of disobedience and murmuring against Him:
And those that were numbered of them were twenty and three thousand, all males from a month old and upward: for they were not numbered among the children of Israel, because there was no inheritance given them among the children of Israel. These are they that were numbered by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who numbered the children of Israel in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho. But among these there was not a man of them whom Moses and Aaron the priest numbered, when they numbered the children of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. For the LORD had said of them, They shall surely die in the wilderness. And there was not left a man of them, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun (Numbers 26:62-65).
While it is true that the question in verse 17, "But with whom was he grieved forty years?", refers to the Jews who followed Moses into the wilderness and died there, the purpose of the words is to cause Paul’s readers (Christians) to acknowledge that they will meet the same fate—they will miss their promised home if they continue to imitate the unbelief and disobedience of their forefathers and apostatize from Jesus Christ.
The expression "whose carcasses fell in the wilderness" implies the disobedient Jews who were following Moses died a sudden and violent death. Vincent says, "The idea of dismemberment underlies the use of the word" (420). Ezekiel records:
Thus saith the Lord GOD; Smite with thine hand, and stamp with thy foot, and say, Alas for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel! for they shall fall by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence. He that is far off shall die of the pestilence; and he that is near shall fall by the sword; and he that remaineth and is besieged shall die by the famine: thus will I accomplish my fury upon them (6:11-12).
And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?
The Hebrew Christians know of the history of their forefathers, for it is recorded in God’s Word. Paul’s question is: "To whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest?" The answer is:
"Them that believed not." The word "sware" (omnuo), meaning "to affirm, promise, (or) threaten" (Thayer 444), refers to an emphatic assertion. Those who were not allowed to enter into the promise land were more than six hundred thousand grown men who originally left Egypt. They all (except Joshua and Caleb) died because they "believe(d) not," meaning that while they knew God and His instructions, they refused to trust and be obedient to Him. While this verse refers specifically to Old Testament Jews who were following Moses, the purpose of the verse (as with the previous verse) is to cause Paul’s readers to acknowledge that they will not be allowed to enter their "rest" if they fail to believe in Jesus.
So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
The words "So we see" indicate we can logically conclude that the Jews were not allowed entry into the promised land of Canaan because of their unbelief (apistia) in God. The Israelites’ apostasy was almost unanimous in spite of the fact that they all had heard the words of the Lord, they all had seen God’s miracles, and they all had Moses as a faithful leader (for a description of the Israelites unbelief in the wilderness in spite of the leadership of Moses and Aaron, see Numbers 14:20-35).