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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Hebrews 4

 

 

Verse 1

1. Therefore—In view of the fearful examples of apostasy in last chapter.

Let us fear—Implying a belief in its practical possibility and an earnest desire to avoid it.

Seem—Should appear.

To come short—Past tense; to have come short; namely, after the end of Hebrews 3:14, and at the judgment day. Hence the seem, or appear, is not a false seeming, but an appearance of a dread reality to the eye of God and in the light of the final judgment. A direful result is this for us to fear; lest, after once being pardoned and sanctified, we at last are seen to have fallen and become lost.


Verse 2

2. Gospel preached—Literally, we were evangelized; greeted with the glad announcement, gospelized. This gospel of the Old Testament, identical with the promise of Hebrews 4:1, was the glad announcement of a Canaan rest; ours, of a heavenly rest.

Mixed with faithThe word, when heard, must be mixed with faith, as food in the stomach must be mixed with gastric juice in order to nourishing and vitalizing our bodies. In the received Greek text the word mixed is nominative singular, and agrees with word, and so makes a clear, good meaning as above. But another, and perhaps true, reading, makes mixed to be accusative plural, and agree with them. The words then would imply that the hearers themselves were to be mixed with faith. That is, so fully should the soul of the hearers be filled and impregnated with faith, that the soul and the faith may be conceived as two elements or fluids mixed together. Them that heard it, is the Greek dative. So the whole may be thus read: The word did not profit them, as they were not impregnated with the faith fitting (or belonging) to the hearers of the word.


Verse 3

d. For us, too, remains a rest, a danger of fall by unbelief, and a stern adjudging WORD, Hebrews 4:3-13.

3. For—To unfold the nature of this our rest, mentioned in Hebrews 4:1, as parallel to the Canaan rest of Hebrews 3:11; Hebrews 3:18. We—Believers of our dispensation universally.

Do enter—General present tense; it is the law of our present dispensation that we do by faith enter heaven.

Rest—The digression on this term is a good instance of what has been called Paul’s “going off at a word.” The word rest, in last chapter, struck his mind impressively, and becomes a key-word for this. It is a beautiful word, soothing to the weary spirit. Indeed, eastern Buddhism feels life so heavy and rest so desirable as to seek for Nirvana, utter annihilation, as a most desirable repose. But that is the religion of despair, as Christianity is the religion of hope. The Christian rest is repose from all that is wearying in life, yet enjoyment of perfect bliss.

As he said—Quoting again Psalms 95:11 to illustrate the Canaan rest.

Although—God applies to this rest a my in the psalm, although it was not his creational rest, for his creation was finished long before he used the words in Psalms 95, even from the foundation of the world.

By bold conception in the present passage the analogous rest of God at creation, of Israel in Canaan, and of the Christian in paradise, are correlated and identified as deeply one. All are three ineffable and divine reposes after a divinely imposed task, and at bottom they are all the same blessed refreshment. Of this bottom reality Israel’s rest in Canaan was but a rough type. But as the deaths in the wilderness under divine wrath implied a deeper death underlying, so the repose of Israel in Canaan implied a profounder underlying rest.


Verse 4

4. In 4 and 5 our author quotes together the two passages, (Genesis 2:2, and Psalms 95:11,) in order to present the difference to the eye.

He spake—God by the inspired writer.

Did restRest is the season of refreshment after a period of toil. And the Genesis picture of the divine rest, after the work of creation, is a type of all subsequent relaxation from action. For all life has this alternation of action and remission. Not only men, but animals and vegetables take repose; even the flowers have their sleep.


Verse 5

5. And in this place again—In Psalm xcv, quoted previously. If—An elliptical form of the divine oath, supposed, when used by men, to be preceded by a fearful penalty upon perjury, as “So do God to me, and more also, if,” etc. 2 Samuel 3:35.

My rest—Not the my rest of the creation, but my appointed rest for Israel in Canaan.


Verse 6

6. Now for the third rest, namely, that for the obedient in the days of David, long after the abode in Canaan.

It remaineth—As a clear inference from the words in Psalm xcv, quoted last verse.

Must—The word not in the Greek. Alford rightly renders the words, “Since then it yet remains that some do enter.”

They… entered not—Since some enter, and yet the Israelites of Exodus failed, we find in this ninety-fifth Psalm another and a later day of probation, and possible rest, specified.


Verse 7

7. He—God by the psalmist.

Limiteth—Defines, specifies, a certain day.

In David—Delitzsch explains this as by David. For David does not here stand for the book of Psalms, but as name of the author of this ninety-fifth Psalm.

To day—In our, David’s, day. After so long a time as has elapsed since Israel’s second generation entered Canaan, namely, a time of five hundred years. And even at this day there still remains a rest to those who hear his voice, but forfeited by those who harden their hearts.


Verse 8

8. And what rest is this? It is plain that this is not the rest which Joshua won for the survivors of the desert; for if Joshua (Jesus is here the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua, who is really here meant, see note on Matthew 1:1) had given it, this another day would not have been spoken of five hundred years later than Joshua. A permanent rest of faith for all the faithful, other than the literal Canaan rest, is, therefore, a valid conclusion, stated next verse.


Verse 9

9. Remaineth—The full conclusion given. There is a permanent rest underlying the Canaan rest, which is God’s and the believer’s rest. But, significantly, our author for the word rest, which has hitherto been αναπαυσις, a pausing, now substitutes σαββατισμος, sabbatismos, sabbatism, a sabbath-rest, thus finely identifying the saints everlasting rest with God’s sabbatic rest. On this Whitby gives a number of interesting extracts from the early Christian writers. “Irenaeus saith, ‘The seventh day, which was sanctified, and in which God rested from all his works, is the true sabbath of the just; in which they shall do no earthly labour.’ And Origen saith that ‘Celsus understood not the mystery of the seventh day, and the rest of God, in which all that had done their work in six, and had left nothing undone which belonged to them, should feast with God, ascending to the vision of him, and in that to the general festivity of the just and blessed.’ And again: ‘If we further inquire which are the true sabbaths, we shall find that the observation of the true sabbath reaches beyond the world; the true sabbath, in which God will rest from all his works, being the world to come, when all grief, sorrow, and sighing shall fly away, and God shall be all in all.’”

And as the early Christian writers are thus in accord with our apostle, so our apostle is in accord with the Hebrew doctors, it not being easy to say which made the earlier utterance. Says Whitby:

“Thus in their descants upon the 92d Psalm, which bears, both in the Hebrew and the Greek, this title, A Song of the Sabbath, ( εις την ημεραν του σαββατου,) they say, ‘This is the age to come which is all sabbath.’ ‘The psalmist,’ saith R. Solomon Jarchi on the passage, ‘speaks of the business of the world to come, which is all sabbath.’ ‘A psalm upon the sabbath day,’ saith R. Eliezer, cap. xix, p. 42, ‘that is, upon the day that is all sabbath and rest, in the life of the world to come.’ And again, cap. xviii, p. 41, ‘The blessed Lord created seven worlds, (that is, ages,) but one of them is all sabbath and rest in life eternal.’ Where he refers to their common opinion, that the world should continue six thousand years, and then a perpetual sabbath should begin, typified by God’s resting the seventh day and blessing it. So Bereschith Rabba, ‘If we expound the seventh day of the seven thousand years, which is the world to come, the exposition is, and he blessed; because that in the seventh thousand all souls shall be bound in the bundle of life; for there shall be there the augmentation of the Holy Ghost, wherein we shall delight ourselves. And so our Rabbies, of blessed memory, have said in their commentaries, God blessed the seventh day; the Holy God blessed the world to come, which beginneth in the seven thousand of years.’ Philo is very copious in this allegory, who, disputing against those who, having learned that the written laws were συμβολα νοητων πραγματων, symbols of intellectual things, did upon that account neglect them, saith that though the seventh day was a document of the power of God, and of this rest of the creature, yet was not the outward rest to be cast off.”


Verse 10

10. Showing the true identity between God’s rest and the believer’s rest. Man is in God’s image, and as God passed through his great week and then came to an ever-blessed repose, so man passes through his probationary work and goes to his eternal salvation.


Verse 11

11. Therefore—The doctrine of the divine rest has been stated; now for the solemn inference as to practice.

Labour—God laboured, so let us labour.

Unbelief—Still the key-word; the fatal secret of Israel’s fall, the fearful token of our fall.


Verse 12

12. For—The momentous reason for our taking warning, the character of the word by which our unbelief is searched out and we condemned.

Word of God—The solemn word, in form of oath, which excludes from rest. Hebrews 4:3, and Hebrews 3:11. This divine word is terribly searching of spirit, soul, and body; searching whether that fatal unbelief lurks, the least particle, in any secret corner of our being. The many personal attributes here ascribed to the word has induced many eminent commentators, ancient and modern, to find here the Word of John 1:1, and to identify it with the second Person of the Trinity. The view of Delitzsch on this point seems most plausible—which is about this. The divine Word is the true expression of the divine nature, both as revealed person and as revealed truth. As the personal Word is the formative energy in the realm of physical things, so he is the actuating energy in the spiritual realm. He is the soul of spiritual truth, which from him derives its penetrative power upon and within the human soul. Hence, this description of the searching power of the word has a blending and identification of the person and the utterance, united in the term Word. And as the Son, by virtue of his being sent forth from the Father, is Apostle, and as the expression of the Father he is the Word, so this passage constitutes the climax of that terribleness of the administration of the apostle which calls for transition to the gracious High Priest, which follows in the next verse. This view is confirmed by a strong similar passage in Philo, of which this is a great improvement, and which we thus translate: “You may contemplate the uncomprehended God, cutting in succession all the natures of bodies and things, which seem to be compacted and unified, with the cleaver of all things, his Word, which, being sharpened to its keenest edge, ( ακμη,) divides unceasingly all sensible things, and afterwards goes through, even to the atoms and the so-called indivisibles.”

Quick—That is, living; full of a pervading, searching life.

Powerful—Intensely energetic in its search.

Sharper—With an omniscient keenness of edge.

Two-edged sword—Cutting either way, according as the presence of the element of unbelief may be.

Piercing— Rather, with a personification, going through; for both this word and sword are living. It is not a sword, which is an instrument, but which is vital and self-active.

Even—Expressive of the surprising extent to which the live word can penetrate.

Dividing asunder—The question is raised by commentators, does this mean a separation of soul from spirit, and of joints from marrow; or does it mean that the word so subtly inserts itself into the interstices between, as we may say, the particles of these four entities as to separate particle from particle? The very fact that they are ranged in couplets seems to indicate that a separation between the two units of each couplet is meant. Yet the language of Philo seems to imply an interpenetration of the ultimate elements. And Lunemann and Alford find that meaning in the text. Says Alford: “The word pierces to the dividing, not of the soul from the spirit, but of the soul itself and of the spirit itself; the former being the lower portion of man’s invisible part, which he has in common with the brutes, ‘the irrational of the soul’ of Philo; the latter, the higher portion, receptive of the Spirit of God, ‘the rational of the soul’ of the same; both which are pierced and divided by the sword of the Spirit, the word of God.”

It is, of course, not meant that the word produces a literal separation of the joints and marrow. But these two parts are mentioned as the residences of mental operations; the former of activities and the latter of sensations; and it is between these mentalities that the word inserts its penetrative and divisive energy.

Discerner—Rendered by Alford “judger,” as being derived from a word signifying to judge. It continues the personification expressed in quick, or living, and going through; implying a discerning power in the word.

Thoughts—Thoughts in action, thinkings, trains of mental operations.

Intents—Mental intentions, out of which spring volitions and actions.

Heart—Note on Romans 10:10.


Verse 13

13. Thus far is described the searching action of the word upon our inmost being; now is correspondently described the complete passive subjection of our being to the scrutiny of the same word.

Creature—Of any nature, but especially human. From the fact that sight and eyes are affirmed, Lunemann, Alford, and Moll tell us that it is no longer the word, but God, that is described. But: 1. That forgets that nearly every term so far gives personality to this word. Living, energizing, going through, discerning, are its attributes. Now what are sight and eyes other than powers of discerning; powers which are attributed to the word in a very intense degree? 2. The word is the sole subject thus far, and it is a violation of grammar to suppose a change without an indication of change. 3. All the commentators we know overlook the correspondence above mentioned between Hebrews 4:12-13. Hebrews 4:12 describes the active scrutiny of the word upon us; Hebrews 4:13 antithetically describes our absolute nakedness beneath that same scrutiny, namely, of the word.

Opened—The Greek word literally signifies throated. It is used of a wrestler grasped by the throat, and prostrated by his antagonist, and so Alford renders it, “prostrate.” By Roman custom, a criminal’s face and throat were exposed to public gaze by a dagger placed under his chin. But the real allusion is to the exposure of the throat of an animal to the knife of the slaughterer, produced by the drawing back of his head for that purpose. Hence the true meaning is, that we are as exposed to the view of the word as the victim’s throat to the eye of his sacrificer.

Have to do—Literal Greek, him to whom is to us the word. To this divine word there is incumbent upon us an answering human word. From this stern apostle and word turn we now to our gracious High-Priest.


Verse 14

III. THE SON AS OUR DIVINE HIGH PRIEST FULLY CONTEMPLATED, Hebrews 4:14 to Hebrews 10:18.

A. INTRODUCTORY, Hebrews 4:14 to Hebrews 6:20.

1. Recurrence to former view (Hebrews 2:9-18) of our High Priest, Hebrews 4:14-16.

14. Seeing—Joins on to Hebrews 2:18, and continues the description of the approachable sympathy of the suffering Saviour.

Then—Or, therefore. In view of the stern nature of the divine legation (apostleship) of the Messiah. Seeing that this terrible

Word—this adjudging King—is also a tender Priest, with all the saving power of royalty, let us not merely fear (Hebrews 4:1) and labour, (Hebrews 4:11,) but come boldly for mercy and grace, (Hebrews 4:16.)

A great high priest—Greater than the highest sacred dignitary known to the Hebrews. Great high priest means a dignitary highest in the line of high priests. If our faltering “Hebrews” reverence that sacred line, most of all should they reverence Jesus.

Passed into—Rather, passed through; namely, in his ascension to the right hand of God. See notes on Ephesians 4:8-10. The great high priest surpassed the ordinary line in this transcendent respect, that, whereas they only passed annually through the temple veil into the most holy, he passed through the heavens to the presence of God, of which the most holy was symbol. He was the real of which they were figure.

Jesus the Son of God—Not Jesus (Joshua) the son of Nun, Hebrews 4:8.

Profession—Note, Hebrews 4:1.


Verse 15

15. For—These next two verses extend and amplify Hebrews 2:17-18, intending to show that the Saviour’s humiliation, instead of being a ground of disgust, is truly most glorious and attractive, as being most tender.

In all points tempted—How this could be, see our notes introductory to and on Matthew 4:1.

Without sin—Without a derived depravation from the fall, and so without a preferential tendency to sin; so that Satan could find “nothing in” him (John 14:30) as base for inducing apostasy. And yet, as human, possessing those susceptibilities which, pure and right in themselves, may, without the preventive will fixing itself firmly in obedience to the Right, be excited to sin. Hence with the full ability to sin, yet without the commission or guilt of sin. All the more glorious his merit, and all the more complete his example, because sin was possible, yet not committed.


Verse 16

16. Therefore—In view of this glorious tenderness of our great high priest.

Come boldly—With free and confident utterance.

Throne—Of God, to which we have access through him.

Mercy—For our past sins.

Grace—For future holiness.

Grace to help in time of need—Literally, grace for timely (suited to the demand) aid; that is, against weakness and trial.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Hebrews 4:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/hebrews-4.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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