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Chapter 3 Jesus Is Greater Than Moses, Let Them Therefore Beware of Failing to Follow Jesus, As Israel Failed To Follow Moses.
Having shown that Jesus is both the very likeness of God and His glorious Messiah, and therefore far superior to the angels. And that the reason that He humbled Himself and became man, and was established as ‘the second man’ (crowned with glory and honour), was in order to die to save men and women and raise them to new heights in ‘the world to come’, that new world which had now come in Him, and which would continue for ever. And that He is our Sanctifier, our Trek Leader and our great High Priest. He calls on his readers to consider Him for what He is, the One Sent Forth (Apostle) and High Priest to Whom we point and Whom we confess.
He especially contrasts Him with Moses and Joshua, the architects of Israel’s great deliverance, the very foundation stones of the Jewish faith. It is almost impossible to overstate the importance that was placed on Moses by the Jews. The angels were seen as hugely important, but they were in Heaven and we are on the earth. Here, however, was one on earth who above all had proved himself the very friend of God, and had delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt, and had brought to Israel the great covenant of Sinai, commencing a theocracy which had established them as a people with Yahweh as King. And they placed their faith totally without reserve in the Instruction (Torah) that Yahweh had given them through Moses, remembering that it had come through him by the mediation of angels. He above all had been the true servant of Yahweh, the God-appointed man for the reception of God’s unique word, followed immediately by Joshua (the only two who were ever specifically titled ‘the servant of Yahweh’).
Thus those who would follow the Messiah Jesus needed to see Him in relation to those two great figures, those two giants of their faith.
A Comparison Between Jesus and Moses, The One The Son Over The House, The Other The Servant In The House (Hebrews 3:1-6 )
‘For this reason, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, even Jesus.’
Because of all he has said about the superiority of Jesus the writer now calls on his ‘holy brothers and sisters’ to consider Him. ‘Holy’ reminds us of His act of sanctifying (making holy) them and making them brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:11). If they are His He has made them ‘holy’, set apart for God by the power of His working. Compare Ephesians 2:19, ‘fellow-citizens with the holy ones (His people)’. ‘Brethren’ reminds us of the fact that they are one together with Him as ‘brothers’. The writer thus confidently hopes that he is speaking to those who are true believers.
‘Partakers of a heavenly calling.’ Their being sanctified by Jesus has made them partakers of a heavenly calling. This is in contrast with Moses’ call to an earthly Utopia, a ‘land of milk and honey’. They have been effectually called by Him and set apart to a heavenly life, both through enjoying ‘eternal life’, the life of ‘the world to come’, already in this life (John 5:24; 1 John 5:13), and by living by faith now in the heavenlies, in the spiritual realm, in Christ (Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 2:4-7), as citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20), setting their minds on things above and not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:2), until they are ‘led to glory’ (Hebrews 2:10) and finally reach Heaven itself (Hebrews 12:22). For that is where they are now destined for, the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10), the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22).
‘Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, even Jesus.’ Having this wonderful privilege they are to fix their thoughts on Jesus as the Apostle and High Priest of the faith they confess. We note here that Jesus combines the two positions of authority and priesthood, something that Moses could not cope with.
He has already in the first two chapters given us a vivid word picture of the glory and status of Jesus in all that He is as the Son and in all that He has done for us, and now he says ‘consider Him, gaze on Him (‘behold’ - Hebrews 2:9), weigh Him up, take Him into your hearts, meditate on Him, and never cease having Him in your thoughts’.
‘The Apostle.’ Using this word of Jesus may suggest that most of the Apostles were now dead so that he sees Jesus as the Apostle supreme, the heavenly Apostle, Who is, in His heavenly presence, as it were, taking their place. But not because He is their successor but because He is their predecessor, and superior. It is as though he were saying that there would be no new Apostles to look to, for those who knew Jesus in the flesh were dying out, but that they still have Jesus, Who is always there, Who is greater than them all, alive from the dead and living in their hearts. Let them therefore now look directly to Him. For He was the original Sent One Who chose the Apostles and sent them out, and while they have ceased, He ever remains.
The word has deep significance. It is literally ‘One sent forth’, and could be used of an ambassador or an authoritative messenger, and is a reminder that Jesus was sent forth from the Father as the ‘Sent One’ (Matthew 21:37; Luke 4:18; Luke 4:43; Luke 10:16; John 3:17; John 3:34; John 4:34; John 5:23-24; John 5:30; John 5:36-38 and in every chapter to chapter 17; John 20:21). The word thus links Jesus closely with the Father in a unique relationship and firmly establishes Him as God’s chosen. He is God’s direct ‘Sent One’, with no intervention of angels. He has come directly from God.
‘And High Priest.’ As God’s sent One He has become the High Priest of His people, as the writer has already stated in Hebrews 2:17, and will expand on later on (7-10). For that was why He was sent, to make the way of forgiveness and reconciliation available to those whom God has chosen. Thus does He combine within Himself that which had been too great a burden even for Moses. He is greater than both Moses and Aaron.
‘Apostle and High Priest.’ He was sent from God to His people from Heaven (John 3:13; John 3:16-17; John 3:31; John 3:34; John 5:36-38; John 6:29 etc.) as the Sent One (Apostle) that He might act on God’s behalf towards His people, and He was appointed High Priest that He might act on behalf of His people towards God. Thus was His ministry two-way. It was a complete ministry. He was the complete Deliverer.
But why should the High Priesthood be mentioned here when the writer is about to compare Jesus with Moses? It is certainly partly in order to confirm that He is the complete Deliverer but it surely also has in mind that before Sinai Moses was both Trek Leader and ‘High Priest’ of Israel. And the aim is therefore surely to undergird the verses which follow with the reminder of Jesus’ High Priestly work. It is because of His High Priestly work that they can be His house and enter into rest.
‘Of our confession.’ He is the One Whom they confess before the world as their God-given Saviour and Lord, and in Whose name they live out their lives in the world revealing His glory, the One Whom they proclaim as the revelation of God in all His fullness, and the One Whom they declare to be the Master of their destinies.
‘Even Jesus.’ There must be no doubt of Whom he is speaking, it is of Jesus, about Whom he has spoken in all that has gone before, the One crowned with glory and honour throughout His ministry on earth (Hebrews 2:9), and now crowned with glory and honour in Heaven.
This was in contrast with Moses. Moses also was ‘sent’ (Exodus 3:12-15; Exodus 4:28). But he came from the wilderness not from Heaven, and he was too weak to bear the burden alone so that Aaron became the High Priest.
‘Who was faithful to him who appointed him, as also was Moses in all his house.’
But he does not want to them think of this as a battle between Jesus and Moses. Indeed there can be no such battle. Both were appointed by God, and both were faithful to God. Both must be honoured for fulfilling God’s will. Any contrast therefore is between them as seen in this light. He intends to bring no dishonour on Moses, or to depreciate him in any way, even though he must now demonstrate the superiority of Jesus even to Moses.
For the truth is that Moses was faithful ‘in all his house’ (compare Numbers 12:7). By ‘his house’ is meant the people to whom he belonged and over whom he was appointed. Among all of them he was the one who was so faithful that God spoke to him mouth to mouth. He was from his beginning one with them, and yet it was from among them that he was called out to serve them by being in authority over them. And it was for this that his people honoured him.
He was, as one of that people, chosen out from among his people, almost from birth, in order to be God’s representative to, and on behalf of, his people. In his own way he was a ‘sent one’ (apostello - compare Exodus 3:12 LXX (exapostello); Exodus 3:13-15; Exodus 5:22 (apostello); and Exodus 7:16 (exapostello)), sent by God for the fulfilling of his purpose in the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, but while acting as priest on behalf of the people prior to the appointment of Aaron, he was never officially appointed High Priest under the Law. He was the lesser of which Jesus was the Greater.
For, as the writer has already demonstrated, Jesus was greater. He was not chosen from among His people, working on behalf of a people who were already in existence. He was rather chosen by God long before any people existed, before all ages, and sent forth from Heaven itself to act on behalf of those whom He then made His people, building His own house, drawing together His people to Himself so that they were ‘in Christ’. Thus was He deserving of the greater honour.
‘For he has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by so much as he that built the house has more honour than the house.’
Thus was He counted as worthy of more glory than Moses. Because it was He Who ‘built’ the house of which Moses was a part. It was He who created the world and brought it into being (Hebrews 1:2). It was He Who upheld it by His powerful word (Hebrews 1:3). It was He Who established Abraham and had brought him into being and had taken hold of him and his seed (Hebrews 2:16). It was He Who had established Abraham’s grandson Jacob/Israel and had thus brought Israel into being. Thus Moses himself was a part of that people established by Jesus. Jesus had built the house, and had therefore more honour than the house and all those who were of the house, even their greatest leader. And in the end He built His own house, made up of all true believers, built on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, being Himself the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20).
Note the use of the two nouns ‘glory’ and honour’, the same as were previously applied to Jesus in Hebrews 2:9. Here is an example of His glory and honour which were His from the beginning, and which He received as ‘the second man’, glory as a Man greater than Moses, and honour as the builder of the house, as Man. The commencement of the building occurred from the beginning, but a new commencement began while He was Man on earth (Matthew 16:18).
‘For every house is built by some one; but he who built all things is God (or ‘divine’ - theos without the article).’
These words may indicate the writer’s extreme awareness that he is writing to men who were prickly about anything that might in any way diminish God. He recognises how quickly their hackles might rise because God has not been brought into the situation, and thus he adds these words. Although it was Jesus Who built the house, he assures them that he acknowledges that it is through God, for ‘He Who built all things is God.’ He wants them to see that he sets God as over all, that he does not separate Jesus in His working from God, and he then leaves them to think through how this connects with Jesus being the builder of the house, and the One described in Hebrews 1:1-3, drawing it out by a reference to His Sonship in the following verses. This necessary tact helps to confirm that he is writing to people with a Jewish background who are sensitive to anything that might somehow diminish Yahweh.
‘And Moses indeed was faithful in all his house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were afterward to be spoken, but Christ (Messiah) as a son, over his house.’
So, he declares, Moses was indeed great. As the servant of Yahweh (one who ‘renders willing service’ - therapon) he was faithful in his responsibilities to the nation from which he sprang, and from which he was called by God in order to be over them. And it was as so faithful that he gave forth a testimony of the things which were to be afterwards spoken, that is, of God’s Instruction and God’s covenant, and was a mediator in establishing that covenant, and could testify to all that was connected with it, and as to what was its true meaning. Truly Moses was great. He was the great Lawgiver, the great revealer of God’s ways, the great spokesman. He was the great Trek leader who called God’s people and both initiated and then led the great Trek towards deliverance. But another (Joshua, but even he failed - Hebrews 4:8) completed the Trek for he proved insufficient. And his insufficiency was demonstrated in that he pointed ahead to another yet to come, another like himself (Deuteronomy 18:18-19), and to a vision of a greater future (Genesis 49:10-12; Numbers 24:17). He did not see himself as the be all and end all. Everything did not point to him
For even greater than Moses was the Messiah. He, as the writer has already revealed, was not a servant in the house but a Son over His house. He came not from the wilderness but from Heaven. He is the One, as he has already demonstrated, Who works all things on behalf of the house, He is their Source and Trek Leader from the beginning who will complete the Trek by bringing many sons to glory, He is their Sanctifier, their High Priest, and their Saviour, and in a unique sense their Elder Brother, and all as One Who as Son came from God. He is not of the house, but One Who is established over the house, that He might save them and thereby make them His house by uniting Himself with them.
‘Whose house are we, if we hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm to the end.’
And we who are his are His house, one with Him and in receipt of all His saving benefits, as long as we are truly responsive to Him, as long as ‘we hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm to the end.’ His house includes the house of which Moses was a part, and over which Moses had authority, for He built it, but His house has expanded far beyond that of Moses.
We should note that it is not a question of comparison between Moses’ house and Messiah’s house. Moses was a part of the house, which could be called ‘his’ because of that fact, because he belonged to it. But Messiah was over the house, and it was totally His, and is called ‘His’ because it belonged to Him. The house is true Israel, the Israel of God, for the early church also saw themselves as the true Israel and the unbelieving Jews as having broken off from the true Israel (Romans 11:13-32; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:11-22).
We should note also that here in a second major exhortation he stresses the human side of salvation, ‘if we hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm to the end.’ For the test of whether we are truly His is that we remain, not necessarily perfect, but faithful. Let them therefore so consider Him that they do remain faithful. That they continue to boldly proclaim Him in the face of persecution, that they continue to glory in the certain hope which they have in Christ and His sacrifice for us (Hebrews 6:18-20) and in the eternal future which is theirs, and retain that hope to the end. Let there be no going back.
We must remember as we consider this that he has already emphasised the divine side in chapter 2. He has already spoken of the Sanctifier, the Trek Leader, the High Priest, and he knows that they cannot fail. But he is also aware of how men can deceive themselves, and imagine they are what they are not. A devout Christian was once asked, “Do you believe in the perseverance of the saints?”, and he quietly replied, “No, I believe in the perseverance of the Saviour”. It was that too in which the writer believed. While he wants to stir them against thinking of ‘going back’, he has no doubt in his heart that if they are truly Christ’s He will fulfil His work within them, working within them to will and do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). He will make them holy before God. He will Trek-lead them to glory. He will assure their acceptability to God through His own sacrifice. But he nevertheless understands the need for a firm warning. He does not forget Jesus’ teaching which clearly linked being true believers with lives that revealed the fact in obedience to God’s word and satisfactory behaviour (compare Matthew 7:21-27).
We should, however, carefully note that important early witnesses (for example P13, P45; B) omit ‘firm to the end’, although the phrase is still implied by the sense, which may be why it was added from Hebrews 3:14.
‘If we hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm to the end.’ Here is the test of whether someone is truly His. They are known by their fruits. They remain bold, they continue glorying in their hope. There may be hiccups, there may be times of failure, but in the end they remain firm because God is at work within them. This now leads on to an example of those who did neither, and the warning that Christians should not be like them but should enter into God’s rest.
A Warning Against Turning Back On The Basis of an Example From Israel’s Failure In The Wilderness (Hebrews 3:7 to Hebrews 4:13).
Having compared Jesus Christ with Moses and Aaron (Sent One and High Priest), and especially with the great Moses, the writer now takes the example of the behaviour of Israel under Moses and Aaron, against God (Psalms 95:9) and against Moses (Exodus 17:1-7), and warns against similar behaviour by professing Christians against Jesus Christ. The faith which perseveres is the condition of God’s blessing while unbelief can only result in losing the promises (Hebrews 3:7-19). For God now has a Rest for His people, and we must not fail to enter into it (Hebrews 4:1-13).
That this is intimately connected with the saving work of Christ as God’s Sent One (Apostle; including Sanctifier and Trek Leader) and especially as High Priest, which is all intimately connected with His suffering (Hebrews 2:9-11; Hebrews 2:17), comes out in that the idea of High Priesthood both introduces it (Hebrews 2:17 to Hebrews 3:1) and finalises it (Hebrews 4:14 onwards), leading on to more detail about His High Priestly work. What is said must therefore be seen in the light of His saving and High Priestly work.
This Psalm quoted here, Psalms 95:0, was central to synagogue worship, and thus engraved deeply into the memory of every Jew, and may well also have featured importantly in Christian gatherings. Certainly it would be well known to his readers.
The Illustration (Hebrews 3:7-11 ).
‘Wherefore, even as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as in the provocation, at (or ‘like as on’) the day of the trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tried me by proving me, and saw my work forty years.” ’
‘Wherefore,’ because they are the house over which Christ is the Son, and because of what He has been revealed to be, let them remember the words of the Holy Spirit, by responding to Him in faith.
‘Even as the Holy Spirit says.’ Notice how he calls the words of Scripture, ‘what the Holy Spirit says’. (Compare Hebrews 2:4; Hebrews 9:8; Hebrews 10:15; Matthew 22:43; Mark 12:36; Acts 1:16 see also 1 Corinthians 2:13). The words are taken from Psalms 95:7-9. The present tense ‘says’ stresses that the Holy Spirit continually speaks through the Scriptures.
‘Today’ is intended to be emphasised, see Hebrews 3:13. He wants them to apply it to their own day and recognise its immediate urgency, as we can apply it to ours. If the people suffered judgment because they failed to listen to Moses, how much more if they fail to listen to their Messiah and High Priest. And this is true ‘Today’ and on every ‘Today’.
The Holy Spirit through Scripture then warns against them hardening their heart. We need to hear when His voice speaks, or there may come a time when it is silenced because out hearts are hardened against it by sin. Let them remember ‘the provocation’, ‘ the day of trial’, that time when, after the great deliverance from Egypt, and after He had wonderfully provided sweet water from bitter, and manna and quails, Israel were in the wilderness and were tried by being thirsty for water and murmured against Yahweh, provoking God that little bit too far. It was not just that they grumbled, they harshly criticised God.
The verse is quoted virtually from LXX. In the Hebrew ‘in the provocation’ is ‘as at Meribah (strife)’, the time when Israel provoked and tested Yahweh, saying, “Is Yahweh among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7 compare Numbers 20:13). While ‘at the day of the trial in the wilderness’ is, in the Hebrew, ‘as in the days of Massah (trial) in the wilderness’ again referring to Exodus 17:7. The LXX translates the meaning of the place names rather than citing them (or it may be that the Greek words were intended as place names).
But the warning in both cases is against provoking God in the face of testing, by murmuring and not trusting Him in such times of trial, and turning at such times against the leaders of God’s people. In spite of all that God had already done, they turned against Him and His servants Moses and Aaron. It was the precursor of, and symbolic of, all the future murmuring that would yet be to come, which would lead on to their final failure to obey God about entering the land, which brought God’s curse on them so that they could not enter the land. And it was a warning that the recipients of Hebrews also beware of behaving in the same way.
‘And saw my work forty years.’ The ‘forty years’ is transposed from the following verse as compared with the original Hebrew, emphasising that for forty years they saw the work of God in the wilderness. And what was that work? It was the resulting hardship under which He put them because of their disobedience. They were displeasing to God for ‘forty years’ (Hebrews 3:17), and suffered hardship accordingly. Instead of a quick transition into the land promised to them, the land of Canaan, which they could have entered after two short years, they suffered in the wilderness for these ‘forty’ long years until the murmurers had died out. (If we take the whole passage together this is necessarily the significance). It should be noted that little is spoken of those final thirty eight years in Numbers apart from rebellion, deaths and catastrophes, and a repetition of the sin of Meribah at a new Meribah (Numbers 15:1 to Numbers 20:13).
But assuming that Hebrews was written in the early seventies AD some see the forty years as intended to parallel the period from when Christianity commenced, either at the crucifixion and resurrection or at Pentecost, to the time of writing, and thus interpret ‘saw my work forty years’ as meaning His general activity on behalf of His people. If this be so then the writer is calling on his readers to look back over the forty years of Christian history and take note of its lessons. Both great persecution and great blessing had been experienced, and they must learn from it. But if this was so it would mean that the application did not quite tie in with the illustration. For the forty years since Pentecost had not been specific times of God’s displeasure, whereas the forty years in the wilderness were (Hebrews 3:17). On the other hand, it must be agreed that illustrations must never be overpressed.
It should be noted that the murmuring at ‘Meribah’ occurred at both ends of the period in Exodus/Numbers (Exodus 17:7; Numbers 20:13), the same name being given to two separate places where similar events took place (compare Deuteronomy 33:8), but the emphasis in the Psalm is on the first one.
Interestingly the Jews also connected the period of forty years in the wilderness with the times of the Messiah based on this verse. Rabbi Eliezer says, “The days of the Messiah are forty years, as it is said, Forty years long was I grieved with that generation”.
“Wherefore I was severely displeased with this generation, And said, They do always err in their heart, but they did not know my ways.”
As a result of their murmuring and their provocation of God, God’s severe displeasure came on that whole generation, because, as He said, ‘they erred in their hearts and did not know His ways’. First their hearts were wrong, and then it resulted in wrong behaviour. The inference is that his readers must beware lest the same thing be true of them. Note those two downward steps. First their hearts went astray, and that was followed by a failure to acknowledge His ways. Unbelief results from a straying heart not a doubting mind, the doubting mind follows to make it respectable. By ‘the heart’ is meant spiritual and moral responsiveness from within, from what a man essentially is, and includes both mind and emotion. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.
“As I swore in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.”
And the result was that God turned against them because of their permanently set attitude of heart, with the result that He swore in His reaction to their behaviour (humanly speaking described as ‘in His anger’), ‘They shall not enter into my rest’. In the case of Israel that rest was Canaan (Deuteronomy 12:9), the place where they were to enjoy peace, and rest, and security. In other words they lost their future hope of life in a sphere of blessing and protection by disobedience. Beware, the writer is saying, lest you do the same.
It should be noted that this is not talking about the final destiny of the people of Israel as determined before God. Some who died in the wilderness no doubt died in the mercy of God. But the point is that almost none reached Canaan.
The General Application (Hebrews 3:12-15).
So his readers are to look to their hearts to ensure that in contrast their faith is strong so that they do enter into their rest.
‘Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God.’
The first thing that they are to do is to ‘take heed’. They are to examine their hearts to see whether they have within them ‘an evil heart of unbelief in falling away from the living God.’ Compare 2 Corinthians 13:5. Unbelief is the evidence of an evil heart for it testifies to a heart in rebellion against, and contrary to, the living God. It is to take up a position exactly the opposite of that of Jesus and Moses who were faithful (Hebrews 3:2). And the inference is that to fall away from Jesus Christ is so to rebel against the living God. Thus men and women should constantly, (without overdoing it), test themselves to see whether their hearts are remaining true to Jesus Christ, or whether some interest, or pleasure, or temptation, or emphasis, is causing a barrier between Him and them.
(On the one hand we are to test ourselves regularly whether we are maintaining our obedience to what God requires of us, but on other we must remember that overmuch self-examination is not good. In the end we should be looking constantly and positively to Christ and not at ourselves. But there are times when such self-examination is very necessary).
The phrase ‘evil heart’ is found in Jeremiah 16:12; Jeremiah 18:12 and describes a stubbornness of heart and mind which is set against obedience to God. It is a set of mind which deliberately turns away from God for its own intrinsically selfish reasons.
The phrase ‘living God’ is popular with the writer (Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:31; Hebrews 12:22) and emphasises the character of God. Among other things it draws attention to His awareness of, and living presence among, men, and His active interest and concern. It reveals Him as One Who is there to act, and is indeed acting on behalf of His own, but also, in warning, as One ready if necessary also to bring judgment on men. It shows Him as One intimately concerned with world affairs, in contrast with dead idols. To fall away from Him is not to reject an absent landlord, but to spurn a present Friend and Guide.
‘But encourage (‘exhort’) one another day by day, so long as it is called ‘Today’, lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin,’
So important is this that they are to exhort and encourage (parakaleo - comfort, exhort, encourage) each other ‘from day to day as long as time exists’, lest any among them be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. It is a reminder that while time exists we must ever be on our guard. There can never be a let up in the battle against sin. And we therefore need to ‘encourage and strengthen’ one another (compare Hebrews 10:25).
Note the phrase ‘the deceitfulness of sin’. Compare ‘the deceitfulness of riches’ (Mark 4:19); ‘deceitful desires’ (Ephesians 4:22), things that we crave after which lead us into sin. Sin is seen as something which is out to trap us, like a hunter taking us in his snare, by its enticement and allurements (compare Romans 7:11). It is a reminder that often our sin is not open and deliberate but something that we are lured into because we allow ourselves to be persuaded that it will be good for us or benefit us, being influenced by our strong desire for it. We are led astray. Elsewhere we learn that both our own desires (James 1:14), and men (Ephesians 5:6; 2 Timothy 3:13), and the Devil (Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:7) deceive us into sin. For sin is the Devil’s ‘power of death’ (Hebrews 2:14)
For we should be aware that, looking at it from the point of view of the long run, sin is never good for us, nor does it benefit us. That is why it is ‘sin’. God does not forbid pleasure, He forbids what will harm us. It may seem to offer present benefit, but we will pay in the end. And once we sin we become more hardened, and if we allow it to go on we become more hardened still. For this is the effect of sin. And sadly for some it may result in simply proving that their faith was not genuine at all, otherwise sin would not have been able to take them over. For those who are His have a Saviour from sin, and sin will not have dominion over them (Romans 6:14).
In the case of the recipients of the letter sin was seeking to deceive them into thinking that they could return to the old ways without it harming them. And they were allowing themselves to be deceived because of peer pressure and fear. So let them beware, for it is the path to disaster!
‘For we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm to the end.’
Following through the earlier quotation this would suggest that entering into rest (Hebrews 3:11) is to be seen as the equivalent of ‘being partakers of Christ’.
In Hebrews 2:14 Jesus partook of ‘flesh and blood’. He was made one with it, and it became very much part of what He was. This is a reversal of that position. Those who are His have become partakers of the Christ (Messiah). They have been made one with Him, and become very much what He is. They have entered into His rest. And the test of whether we have so become partakers of Christ, and are now partaking in His life and saving power, is that we will hold fast our first confidence in Him to the end (compare 1 Corinthians 1:8). That is the final proof as to whether we are partakers in Christ, sharers in Christ as the One Who is over the house, Whose house we are (Hebrews 3:6). As Jesus said in John 10:27-28, the sheep reveal that they are His by following Him and by keeping on following. Thus they may sometimes wander, but they do not wander away so far that they perish, because He will not allow it, nor does anything from outside snatch them from Jesus’ protection. His protection ensures their eternal security within the flock that is following Him. And the proof that they are His sheep is that they continue in the end to follow Him because of His faithful shepherding.
‘The beginning of our confidence.’ That is, the seed from which our confidence will grow. But Jesus elsewhere warned of the seed that sprang up quickly but was not firmly planted and therefore withered and died (Mark 4:16-17). They must consider whether their confidence, their faith and trust in Christ, is genuine enough, so that it will survive to the end. Does it have depth of earth? Is it truly founded in Christ? The difference is between those who enthusiastically follow Christianity as some new and attractive thing (Acts 17:21), and those who genuinely follow Christ because they have truly come to know Him.
‘In that it is said, “Today if you will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.”
The quotation is a repetition of Hebrews 3:7. ‘In that it is said’ perhaps refers back to ‘exhort one another’ (Hebrews 3:13), giving a reason for the exhortation. They are to exhort and encourage one another because the Holy Spirit has said, ‘Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as in the provocation.’ They are to work together to obey Him. Or it may refer back to the ‘confidence’ to which they were to hold fast.
The point is that the provocation took place in the face of God’s great and wonderful deliverance. Their past experience of God should have bolstered their faith for the present. But because hardship came, instead of encouraging each other to trust their great God in the midst of their difficulties they looked at their present hardships and hardened their hearts, and encouraged each other to murmur. In spite of the wonders they had previously seen in Egypt and at the Reed Sea, they murmured against God. They revealed an evil heart of disbelief and disobedience, not a heart of trust and faith in God, resulting in faithfulness in response. They demonstrated that instead of being caught up in love for God in view of what He had done for them, so that all else was seen in that light, they were just taken up with themselves and their own short term advantage. Let anything go wrong and His past goodness was forgotten immediately. This also was what the recipients of the letter were set on doing, and, if they went through with it, it would demonstrate where their confidence lay.
The Widespread Nature of The Punishment; The Majority Can Be Wrong (Hebrews 3:16-19).
‘For who, when they heard, did provoke? No, did not all those who came out of Egypt by Moses?’
And who of those who heard these words, provoked God? Was it not all those who came out of Egypt through the activity of Moses? The situation was appalling. It was not the few who provoked God, but the many. Indeed (nearly) all of them. Let his readers not think that, because they were all agreed, it proved that what they were thinking of doing was right. For Israel had all been agreed in provoking God and murmuring against Moses, even though it was through Moses that they had been delivered, and they were all in the wrong.
‘No, did not all --’. The first question gave the impression that it might have been just some, so he firmly asserts, no, it was not only some, but all.
‘All.’ That is the large majority sufficient to be seen as almost all, a regular use of all.
‘And with whom was he displeased forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?’
And let them consider with whom He was displeased for forty years, a displeasure revealed by their not being able to enter Canaan, their longed for rest. It was with those who sinned whose bodies fell in the wilderness. That was their fate. And it was what happened to almost all of them. They did not enter into what they had set out from Egypt to obtain, the land of milk and honey. They dropped dead one by one in the wilderness, and were buried there, away from the land of promise. They were left behind in ‘no-man’s land’, with nowhere to call their own. They never enjoyed what God had purposed for them. And it was because they had provoked God by murmuring and disobedience and unbelief, because they had forgotten how they had been delivered. It was because they chose to sin that they lost all that faith in God would have given them.
‘And to whom swore he that they should not enter into his rest, but to those who were disobedient?’
For God swore to those who were disobedient that they should not enter into His rest. This refers mainly to the later incident when faced with the obstacles to entering the land their faith failed and they refused to go. They forgot all that had happened in the past. They forgot Who and What God was. They thought only of their own temporary safety. And they thus excluded themselves from the land and from the ‘rest’ that He had promised them, and even determined that they would return to Egypt.
It had been a serious time indeed, and it had had serious consequences. For their behaviour resulted in God’s oath (Numbers 14:28-35) that they would never themselves enter the land, and their subsequent fate had resulted from God’s oath, an oath made because of the seriousness of their disobedience. And because of that disobedience they were barred from their hope, from the land of rest and promise. Their ‘rest’ was lost through disobedience. They were left stranded in the wilderness. See Numbers 13-14.
‘And we see that they were not able to enter in because of unbelief.’
Note the sequence. They provoked (Hebrews 3:16), they sinned (Hebrews 3:17), they were disobedient (Hebrews 3:18), they were guilty of unbelief (Hebrews 3:19). Their hearts became harder and harder. And thus they could not enter into God’s rest (Deuteronomy 12:9; Exodus 33:14). To enter God’s rest was to be settled in the land and delivered from surrounding enemies (Deuteronomy 3:20; Deuteronomy 25:19; Joshua 1:15; Joshua 21:44; Joshua 22:4; Joshua 23:1).
So the lessons up to this point are on the danger of being entrapped by sin and allowing it to develop within; and the danger of assuming that the majority is always right; and the danger of disobedience and unbelief; and the danger of turning away from God’s appointed deliverer; all of which in Israel’s case had resulted in God’s judgment. All these will cause us to fail to enter into His rest, a rest obtained by becoming partakers in Christ (Hebrews 3:14).
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Hebrews 3". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
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