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Hebrews 4

Haldane's Exposition on the Epistle to the Romans and HebrewsHaldane on Romans and Hebrews

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Verse 1

“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.”

The fear of God is often put for the whole of religion. Proverbs 1:7. There are two kinds of fear; one is strongly inculcated on believers, and is necessarily produced by just views of the glorious majesty of God. Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, let him be your dread.” Isaiah 8:13. It is opposed to hardening the heart. “Happy is the man that feareth always: but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief.” Proverbs 28:14. The other is condemned and represented as a characteristic of the wicked. The slothful servant feared his master, because he viewed him as an austere man. Luke 19:21. The fearful are classed with the unbelieving. Revelation 21:8. David on one occasion, under the influence of fear, abandoned his purpose of bringing up the ark. 1 Chronicles 13:12.

Here the Hebrews are enjoined to take warning from the example of their ancestors, and to beware lest, a promise of entering into rest being left on record, any of them should seem to come. short of it. Our translators have inserted “us” as a supplement, but it seems improper, as will be hereafter noticed.

The Apostle had directed the attention of the Hebrews to their forefathers, who were excluded from Canaan through unbelief, and now he proceeds to make a more particular application of this circumstance.

Let us therefore fear”. Fear is used both in a good and a bad sense in the Word of God. The Lord promises to put His fear into His people’s hearts, that they may not depart from Him. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Believers inhabit a world in rebellion against God, their hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; they are surrounded with temptation, and they have no strength to resist their numerous foes. The smallest temptation is sufficient to overcome them, and their only security is confidence in God. In this confidence there are two essential ingredients—a sense of our own weakness, and of the power and goodness of God. If destitute of a sense of weakness, we trust in ourselves; and the Scripture tells us, "He who trusteth in his own heart is a fool.” If we trust in God, except as sinners saved by grace, we trust in a lie. In Christ alone God is revealed as just, and the justifier of those who believe. Mercy flows in no other channel than through the atonement of Christ. By this the law was magnified and made honorable. He appeared as the substitute of His people and bore their sins in His own body upon the tree. With His dying breath He proclaimed that the work of expiation was finished, and the Father re-echoed the declaration from the bounds of the everlasting hills by raising Him from the dead and placing in His hands the reins of universal dominion, and exalting Him at the right-hand of the throne of God a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel and the remission of sins.

They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick; and, unless we feel our own weakness, we shall not depend on Christ. The Scriptures contain many precious promises and many solemn warnings. By the promises we are encouraged to hope in God, by the warnings we are cautioned against those dangers with which we are surrounded.

Both ought to have an effect on our minds. The one exhibits Christ as a refuge from the storm—a hiding-place from the tempest; the other points out the dangers through which many have made shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience.

Our comfort and safety depend upon the due admixture of hope and fear. We read of those who feasted themselves without fear; and it is written, blessed is he that feareth always. The principle of fear is implanted in our constitution, without it our natural life could not be preserved; we might from principle avoid what is dangerous, but dangers arise where there is no time for reflection, and we shrink from them instinctively. The same principle is applicable to the spiritual life. There is an instinctive fear implanted in the mind in the day of regeneration, which is as essential to our safety as the natural principle of fear is to the preservation of our life. In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence. A sense of His glory and majesty, His purity and holiness, with our liability to fall into sin, necessarily produce circumspection and watchfulness, and lead to that fear which, so far from being opposed to the life of faith, are essential to its preservation.

It was well that the Israelites should be aware of the power of their enemies, but they lost sight of the power of God. He who had opened the sea for them to pass through, who had given them manna and water from the rock, who had guided them through the pathless wilderness in a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, could easily have given them the victory; but they walked by sight, they looked at the Canaanites and refused to attack them. They had the promise of God pledged to their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, their own triumph over the Egyptians at the Red Sea to assure them of victory; but all the proofs of His power in the wilderness were forgotten, and they only thought of the prowess of the Canaanites, and, by refusing to enter the land, they came short of the promised rest.

God had said to Moses, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest;" but, notwithstanding, they came short of it, and never obtained that rest.

On this the apostolic exhortation is founded; Canaan was a shadow of the better country, and Israel after the flesh, at least that generation, could not enter because they believed not God, nor trusted in His salvation. This is an example for those who are travelling to the better country, the heavenly Canaan, which teaches them that although a promise is left that the people of God should inherit it, still all are to see to it that they do not even seem to come short of the rest presented to their view. The word us is inserted in our version improperly; a promise is left that certain persons shall enter into rest, and this promise must he fulfilled, but it is not made in the Word of God to individuals any more than it was to that generation of the Israelites, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, who came out of Egypt.

The Lord knoweth them that are his; they shall inherit the land, the elect shall obtain it; but we are exhorted to fear lest we should seem to come short of it, lest the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches should choke the word; lest believers, being led away by the error of the wicked, should fall from their own steadfastness. Blessed is the man who is so convinced of his proneness to depart from God that he is ever stirring up his soul and all that is within him to trust in God, knowing that safety is only to be found in Him.

The exhortation is similar to that of using diligence to make our calling and election sure, and of using diligence to the full assurance of hope to the end, proving that we are of the truth, and assuring our hearts before him. The Apostle is far from giving encouragement to that fear which hath torment, which is cast out by perfect love. Here we see the analogy to which we have referred between the natural and spiritual life. In our social intercourse or relations, we may be so convinced of the love of a fellow-creature that we have the fullest confidence in him, while in the same proportion we are afraid of doing anything that should offend him, or prevent him from bestowing on us any kindness which we expected from him. In short, if the natural fear implanted in our constitution be excessive, it will render our life very uncomfortable; so if, from defective views of the truth and not knowing the things which are freely given to us of God, our apprehension of our future state be painful, we shall be kept in bondage, destitute of the joy of the Lord, which is our strength. The Apostle, who tells the Hebrews to fear lest a promise being left of entering into rest any of them should seem to come short of it, teaches the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord always, and again He says, Rejoice.

Verse 2

“For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.”

Literally, we were evangelized as well as they. That the Gospel was preached to the Hebrews was undoubted, but it was not so palpable that, it had been preached to their progenitors. Some render the passage, the same good tidings were preached to us as to them: namely, of entering into rest. In consequence of Israel’s making the golden calf God threatened to forsake them; but, at the intercession of Moses, he promised them his presence, and that he would give them rest. Exodus 33:14. This promise was made to the nation of Israel, and to the nation it was fulfilled, although that generation fell in the wilderness; the promise was not made to any individual, but to Moses in the character of mediator and representative of Israel; consequently there was no breach of promise in that, the carcases of those who had been numbered, fell in the wilderness. But all God’s dealings with Israel were a parable for the time then present, a pattern of heavenly things. Hence we might rather have expected it to be said, unto them was the Gospel preached as well as unto us. There could be no question of the Gospel being preached to us, but although it was also declared to them it was only in types and shadows. The Apostle’s assertion is, we were evangelized as well as they; the word evangelized denotes receiving good news of any kind, although it has long been appropriated to the glad tidings of salvation. The meaning here obviously is, the same good tidings are preached to us, which were formerly preached unto them, namely, of entering into rest. When God threatened to disinherit Israel the intercession of Moses prevailed, and he obtained the promise, " My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest,” Exodus 33:14.

This is the promise to which the Apostle refers, 5:1. It had been left, not to any individual, but to Moses in the character of mediator and intercessor, and by him made known to Israel. So it is with the Gospel, all the promises of which are yea and amen in Christ. Eternal life is the promise which God has given to believers. This is the record that God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son, and he who hath (the knowledge of) the Son hath life, and he who hath not the Son hath not life. But the word of hearing— the word which Israel heard—did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in the hearers. God brought his people to the borders of Canaan, and told them to go up and possess it, Deuteronomy 1:20-21; but having no confidence in the promise of the land which God had made them, in other words the promise not being mixed with faith, it did not profit them. A promise may be absolute altogether, independent of faith in the person to whom it is made; but such is not the promise of which the Apostle treats.

It was a promise which could only be fulfilled by Israel judging him faithful who had promised, and in this confidence disregarding all the power of the inhabitants of the land. Such is also the case with the promise of the heavenly country. It can only be fulfilled by our treading in the steps of the great Captain of our Salvation. He endured the cross despising the shame, and is now set down at the right hand of God, girded with universal power, to bestow eternal life on all who will receive it as the gift of God through Christ. Nothing therefore can be more appropriate than the illustration of the Apostle, of the people of God entering into rest through faith.

Verse 3

“For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.”

“For we who have believed do enter into rest;” this is apparent from the oath already adverted to declaring that the unbelievers should not enter into his rest. We have already mentioned that chap. 3:11, which is rendered in our version They shall not enter into my rest,” is in the original an elliptical expression, if they shall enter into my rest. Our translators would have done well to have retained the same rendering when the expression recurs, but they have here rendered it literally, If they shall enter, which introduces confusion.

The Apostle, however, was proving that Israel was excluded from God’s rest; but it might be objected that they did enter into God’s rest, for the work in which God was engaged as Creator was finished from the foundation of the world.

Verse 4

“For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.”

And God rested the seventh day from all his works. Hence the seventh day might be considered as God’s rest, and as such was strictly enjoined on Israel; so that in one sense they did enter into God’s rest.

Verse 5

“And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest.”

Yet God sware that they should not enter into his rest.

Verse 6

“Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief”

God gave not his promise in vain; the promise implied that some must enter it, and they to whom it was first preached did not enter through unbelief, as had been proved. Chap. 3:19. In verse 6 the Apostle only states the premises without drawing the conclusion, which is not mentioned till verse 9, " there remaineth therefore a rest for the people of God.” The reason of not drawing the conclusion was, that the Apostle intended to prove not only that the Sabbath was not the rest referred to by the Psalmist, but that the land of Canaan was not that rest. Had he drawn the conclusion at the end of verse 6 it would have been necessary to draw it a second time, and this did not suit the rapidity of his ideas. But the reader may draw it for himself,

Verse 7

“Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, Today, after so long a time; as it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

“Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, Today, after so long a time; as it is said, Today…” This abundantly proves that as the observance of the Sabbath was not the rest from which unbelievers were excluded by the oath, neither was the enjoyment of Canaan. For so long a time, after speaking by David, he says, today, after Israel had so long dwelt in Canaan, which not only excludes the seventh day, but also the land of Canaan, as the rest referred to,

Verse 8

“For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not afterward have spoken of another day, long after the rest had been obtained.

Verse 9

“There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.”

“There remaineth…” Here is the conclusion drawn from the premises laid down, which are that neither the Sabbath, on which God rested from all his works, nor the land of Canaan, where Israel ceased from their wanderings, was the rest spoken of by the Psalmist, for that was still future after Israel had possessed the land for so long a period.

We must observe that the Apostle here changes the word he had hitherto used and substitutes the word Sabbatism. The reason is, that God having rested on the seventh day and blessed and sanctified it, admitted man to a participation with him in his rest. This privilege he lost by his rebellion.

There is no reason to doubt that the Sabbath- day was observed by those who feared God from Adam to Moses, although this is not recorded until God separated for himself a peculiar people, and visibly placed a middle wall of partition between them and all other nations. He gave them his Sabbaths to be a sign between him and them.

The rest of mankind were toiling through the whole week for their daily food, but the return of the Sabbath on which Israel were commanded to abstain from all servile work, reminded them of the restoration of fellowship between God and his people. The same instruction was given them in the rest from their journeying in the wilderness and possession of the land of Canaan, the rest into which they then entered was a shadow for the time then present; but there still remains a rest for the people of God, as is evident from the language of David, who, after so long a period, cautions the men of his generation against coming short of God’s rest, which is prepared for his people.

Verse 10

“For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.”

The Israelites enjoyed rest from labour on the Sabbath, and when they reached the land of Canaan they rested from the fatigues of their journey through the wilderness, but still they were subject to that labour and toil to which man is doomed during his pilgrimage here below; so that their fellowship with God in his rest was incomplete, but he that is entered into that rest which remaineth for the people of God hath ceased from his own works as God did from his. His fellowship with God is complete. As God rested on the seventh day from all his works, so does he that is entered into his rest cease not only from the sore travail which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith, but from the warfare in which the believer is engaged in journeying to the Heavenly Canaan. In short, his fellowship with God is complete, he hath ceased from his own works as God did from his; to the same purpose it is written: “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours.” Revelation 14:13. Into this rest Christ hath entered as their forerunner, having finished the work which the Father had given him to do; the everlasting doors were thrown open, and he entered as the forerunner of his people, to prepare for them those mansions in which they shall for ever dwell, where each shall exclaim, with joyful lips, Return unto thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.”

Verse 11

“Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief”

This is the practical improvement of what had gone before, believers are exhorted to labour to enter into that rest which remaineth for the people of God, lest any should fall after the same example of unbelief—viz., of the generation of Israel which fell in the wilderness. They could not enter into God’s rest because of unbelief, and thus the Apostle illustrates and enforces the exhortation previously given to the Hebrews, to give the more earnest heed to the things which they had heard lest at any time they should let them slip.

Verse 12

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

Here the Apostle intimates the impossibility of the unbelief of the heart escaping detection. Some by the Word of God understand Christ, who is the judge of all; but it rather seems to refer to the word, which he declares shall judge us. John 12:48. It is described as living and abiding for ever. 1 Peter 1:23. Thy word, saith the Psalmist, hath quickened me, Psalms 119:50; and Christ describes His words to be spirit and life. John 6:63. It is powerful, mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5. Where the word of a king is there is power, this is the word of the King of kings. It is sharper than a two-edged sword. It pierces even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, of the joints and marrow; a sword may be so sharp as to sever the joints and marrow, but the Word of God is of such ethereal temper as to sever even soul and spirit. Man is represented as composed of soul, body, and spirit. 1 Thessalonians 5:23. The body was made of dust, a living soul was given to it in common with those animals in whom was the breath of life; but besides this man has an immortal spirit, which raises him above all the creatures, and by which in his first estate he was capable of knowing and holding intercourse with his Maker. Now the Word of God is living and powerful, and discerns and discovers the secrets of the heart. It is compared to a refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap.

Verse 13

“Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”

The Apostle had been treating of the Word of God, but here he passes to God himself, and declares that all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do; or, as some render it, to whom we must give account.

Verses 14-15

“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an High Priest which cannot he touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”

“For we have not a High Priest who cannot he touched with or cannot sympathize with our infirmities;” for, having assumed our nature, He was in all things tempted like as we are, yet without sin. The Lord Jesus was truly a man, born of a woman, and consequently had all the feelings of a man; but these were under such entire subjection to the will of God, that He had no sin, but was entirely conformed to the will of God. In every situation He did the things which pleased His heavenly Father. He suffered, being tempted, for instance, when He was hungry; the devil tempted Him to change the stones into bread. His hunger prompted him to comply; but, while His Father had given Him power to accomplish many mighty works, in proof of His having come forth from God, had He employed that power for the supply of His own wants, it would have interfered with the example which He has left us of confidence in God, being assured that He will withhold from us no good thing. We cannot imitate the signs and wonders which He wrought. These were peculiar to Himself, and to those upon whom He thought fit to bestow them, for the confirmation of the word of the truth of the Gospel; but He was in all things conformed to His brethren, so that He hath afforded us a perfect pattern for our conduct during our pilgrimage; and, had He not in all things been made like unto His brethren, this could not have been the case. In all things, therefore, it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted.” Chap. 2:17, 18. Christ’s entire submission to His Father’s will, and not pleasing Himself, may be represented as inconsistent with His supreme divinity; but on the contrary it was His Divinity that enabled the man Christ Jesus thus to glorify His Father. He thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but, having taken on Him the form of a servant, He was in all things obedient to the will of His Father. It was His meat and His drink to do His will; and at last, in obedience to the commandment which He had received, He laid down His life and took it again. A sin-offering must be perfect to be accepted; and He offered Himself without spot or blemish; and although He had no sin, yet was He made sin for His people, that they might be made the righteousness of God in Him; that, having by His blameless life and meritorious death, as the Head and Surety of His people, atoned for their sins, and brought in everlasting righteousness, that righteousness might belong to all the seed of the woman, with whom He took part in flesh and blood. Thus God’s eternal purpose was accomplished by His own Son manifest in the flesh. The Son of God made His soul an offering for the sins of an unnumbered multitude, who were chosen in and given to Him by His Father; and thus grace reigned through righteousness unto eternal life, by Christ Jesus. Had His people broken the holy law? He obeyed it in all its extent, and endured its penalty. Had they come under the curse? He redeemed them by being made a curse for them, and opened a new and living way for their entering into life through His obedience unto death.

Bibliographical Information
Haldane, Robert. "Commentary on Hebrews 4". "Haldane's Exposition on the Epistle to the Romans and Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hal/hebrews-4.html. 1835.
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