Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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.
Heb 4:1-16. The Promise of God's Rest Is Fully Realized through Christ: Let Us Strive to Obtain It by Him, Our Sympathizing High Priest.
1. Let us … fear—not with slavish terror, but godly "fear and trembling" (Php 2:12). Since so many have fallen, we have cause to fear (Heb 3:17-19).
being left us—still remaining to us after the others have, by neglect, lost it.
his rest—God's heavenly rest, of which Canaan is the type. "To-day" still continues, during which there is the danger of failing to reach the rest. "To-day," rightly used, terminates in the rest which, when once obtained, is never lost (Re 3:12). A foretaste of the rest Is given in the inward rest which the believer's soul has in Christ.
should seem to come short of it—Greek, "to have come short of it"; should be found, when the great trial of all shall take place [Alford], to have fallen short of attaining the promise. The word "seem" is a mitigating mode of expression, though not lessening the reality. Bengel and Owen take it, Lest there should be any semblance or appearance of falling short.
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.
2. gospel preached … unto them—in type: the earthly Canaan, wherein they failed to realize perfect rest, suggesting to them that they should look beyond to the heavenly land of rest, to which faith is the avenue, and from which unbelief excludes, as it did from the earthly Canaan.
the word preached—literally, "the word of hearing": the word heard by them.
not being mixed with faith in them that heard—So the Syriac and the Old Latin Versions, older than any of our manuscripts, and Lucifer, read, "As the world did not unite with the hearers in faith." The word heard being the food which, as the bread of life, must pass into flesh and blood through man's appropriating it to himself in faith. Hearing alone is of as little value as undigested food in a bad stomach [Tholuck]. The whole of oldest extant manuscript authority supports a different reading, "unmingled as they were (Greek accusative case agreeing with 'them') in faith with its hearers," that is, with its believing, obedient hearers, as Caleb and Joshua. So "hear" is used for "obey" in the context, Heb 4:7, "To-day, if ye will hear His voice." The disobedient, instead of being blended in "the same body," separated themselves as Korah: a tacit reproof to like separatists from the Christian assembling together (Heb 10:25; Jude 19).
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.
3. For—justifying his assertion of the need of "faith," Heb 4:2.
we which have believed—we who at Christ's coming shall be found to have believed.
do enter—that is, are to enter: so two of the oldest manuscripts and Lucifer and the old Latin. Two other oldest manuscripts read, "Let us enter."
into rest—Greek, "into the rest" which is promised in the ninety-fifth Psalm.
as he said—God's saying that unbelief excludes from entrance implies that belief gains an entrance into the rest. What, however, Paul mainly here dwells on in the quotation is that the promised "rest" has not yet been entered into. At Heb 4:11 he again, as in Heb 3:12-19 already, takes up faith as the indispensable qualification for entering it.
although, &c.—Although God had finished His works of creation and entered on His rest from creation long before Moses' time, yet under that leader of Israel another rest was promised, which most fell short of through unbelief; and although the rest in Canaan was subsequently attained under Joshua, yet long after, in David's days, God, in the ninety-fifth Psalm, still speaks of the rest of God as not yet attained. Therefore, there must be meant a rest still future, namely, that which "remaineth for the people of God" in heaven, Heb 4:3-9, when they shall rest from their works, as God did from His, Heb 4:10. The argument is to show that by "My rest," God means a future rest, not for Himself, but for us.
finished—Greek, "brought into existence," "made."
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.
4. he spake—God (Ge 2:2).
God did rest the seventh day—a rest not ending with the seventh day, but beginning then and still continuing, into which believers shall hereafter enter. God's rest is not a rest necessitated by fatigue, nor consisting in idleness, but is that upholding and governing of which creation was the beginning [Alford]. Hence Moses records the end of each of the first six days, but not of the seventh.
from all his works—Hebrew, Ge 2:2, "from all His work." God's "work" was one, comprehending, however, many "works."
And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest.
5. in this place—In this passage of the Psalm again, it is implied that the rest was even then still future.
Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:
6. it remaineth—still to be realized.
some must enter—The denial of entrance to unbelievers is a virtual promise of entrance to those that believe. God wishes not His rest to be empty, but furnished with guests (Lu 14:23).
they to whom it was first preached entered not—literally, "they who first (in the time of Moses) had the Gospel preached to them," namely, in type, see on Heb 4:2.
unbelief—Greek, rather "disobedience" (see on Heb 3:18).
Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
7. Again—Anew the promise recurs. Translate as the Greek order is, "He limited a certain day, 'To-day.'" Here Paul interrupts the quotation by, "In (the Psalm of) David saying after so long a time (after five hundred years' possession of Canaan)," and resumes it by, "as it has been said before (so the Greek oldest manuscript, before, namely, Heb 3:7, 15), To-day if ye hear His voice," &c. [Alford].
For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.
8. Answer to the objection which might be made to his reasoning, namely, that those brought into Canaan by Joshua (so "Jesus" here means, as in Ac 7:45) did enter the rest of God. If the rest of God meant Canaan, God would not after their entrance into that land, have spoken (or speak [Alford]) of another (future) day of entering the rest.
There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.
9. therefore—because God "speaks of another day" (see on Heb 4:8).
remaineth—still to be realized hereafter by the "some (who) must enter therein" (Heb 4:6), that is, "the people of God," the true Israel who shall enter into God's rest ("My rest," Heb 4:3). God's rest was a Sabbatism; so also will ours be.
a rest—Greek, "Sabbatism." In time there are many Sabbaths, but then there shall be the enjoyment and keeping of a Sabbath-rest: one perfect and eternal. The "rest" in Heb 4:8 is Greek, "catapausis;" Hebrew, "Noah"; rest from weariness, as the ark rested on Ararat after its tossings to and fro; and as Israel, under Joshua, enjoyed at last rest from war in Canaan. But the "rest" in this Heb 4:9 is the nobler and more exalted (Hebrew) "Sabbath" rest; literally, "cessation": rest from work when finished (Heb 4:4), as God rested (Re 16:17). The two ideas of "rest" combined, give the perfect view of the heavenly Sabbath. Rest from weariness, sorrow, and sin; and rest in the completion of God's new creation (Re 21:5). The whole renovated creation shall share in it; nothing will there be to break the Sabbath of eternity; and the Triune God shall rejoice in the work of His hands (Zep 3:17). Moses, the representative of the law, could not lead Israel into Canaan: the law leads us to Christ, and there its office ceases, as that of Moses on the borders of Canaan: it is Jesus, the antitype of Joshua, who leads us into the heavenly rest. This verse indirectly establishes the obligation of the Sabbath still; for the type continues until the antitype supersedes it: so legal sacrifices continued till the great antitypical Sacrifice superseded it, As then the antitypical heavenly Sabbath-rest will not be till Christ, our Gospel Joshua, comes, to usher us into it, the typical earthly Sabbath must continue till then. The Jews call the future rest "the day which is all Sabbath."
For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
10. For—justifying and explaining the word "rest," or "Sabbatism," just used (see on Heb 4:9).
he that is entered—whosoever once enters.
his rest—God's rest: the rest prepared by God for His people [Estius]. Rather, "His rest": the man's rest: that assigned to him by God as his. The Greek is the same as that for "his own" immediately after.
hath ceased—The Greek aorist is used of indefinite time, "is wont to cease," or rather, "rest": rests. The past tense implies at the same time the certainty of it, as also that in this life a kind of foretaste in Christ is already given [Grotius] (Jer 6:16; Mt 11:28, 29). Our highest happiness shall, according to this verse, consist in our being united in one with God, and moulded into conformity with Him as our archetype [Calvin].
from his own works—even from those that were good and suitable to the time of doing work. Labor was followed by rest even in Paradise (Ge 2:3, 15). The work and subsequent rest of God are the archetype to which we should be conformed. The argument is: He who once enters rest, rests from labors; but God's people have not yet rested from them, therefore they have not yet entered the rest, and so it must be still future. Alford translates, "He that entered into his (or else God's, but rather 'his'; Isa 11:10, 'His rest': 'the joy of the Lord,' Mt 25:21, 23) rest (namely, Jesus, our Forerunner, Heb 4:14; 6:20, 'The Son of God that is passed through the heavens': in contrast to Joshua the type, who did not bring God's people into the heavenly rest), he himself (emphatical) rested from his works (Heb 4:4), as God (did) from His own" (so the Greek, "works"). The argument, though generally applying to anyone who has entered his rest, probably alludes to Jesus in particular, the antitypical Joshua, who, having entered His rest at the Ascension, has ceased or rested from His work of the new creation, as God on the seventh day rested from the work of physical creation. Not that He has ceased to carry on the work of redemption, nay, He upholds it by His mediation; but He has ceased from those portions of the work which constitute the foundation; the sacrifice has been once for all accomplished. Compare as to God's creation rest, once for all completed, and rested from, but now still upheld (see on Heb 4:4).
Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
11. Let us … therefore—Seeing such a promise is before us, which we may, like them, fall short of through unbelief.
labour—Greek, "strive diligently."
that rest—which is still future and so glorious. Or, in Alford's translation of Heb 4:10, "That rest into which Christ has entered before" (Heb 4:14; Heb 6:20).
fall—with the soul, not merely the body, as the rebel Israelites fell (Heb 3:17).
after the same example—Alford translates, "fall into the same example." The less prominent place of the "fall" in the Greek favors this. The sense is, "lest any fall into such disobedience (so the Greek for 'unbelief' means) as they gave a sample of" [Grotius]. The Jews say, "The parents are a sign (warning) to their sons."
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged 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.
12. For—Such diligent striving (Heb 4:11) is incumbent on us FOR we have to do with a God whose "word" whereby we shall be judged, is heart-searching, and whose eyes are all-seeing (Heb 4:13). The qualities here attributed to the word of God, and the whole context, show that it is regarded in its JUDICIAL power, whereby it doomed the disobedient Israelites to exclusion from Canaan, and shall exclude unbelieving so-called Christians from the heavenly rest. The written Word of God is not the prominent thought here, though the passage is often quoted as if it were. Still the word of God (the same as that preached, Heb 4:2), used here in the broadest sense, but with special reference to its judicial power, INCLUDES the Word of God, the sword of the Spirit with double edge, one edge for convicting and converting some (Heb 4:2), and the other for condemning and destroying the unbelieving (Heb 4:14). Re 19:15 similarly represents the Word's judicial power as a sharp sword going out of Christ's mouth to smite the nations. The same word which is saving to the faithful (Heb 4:2) is destroying to the disobedient (2Co 2:15, 16). The personal Word, to whom some refer the passage, is not here meant: for He is not the sword, but has the sword. Thus reference to Joshua appropriately follows in Heb 4:8.
quick—Greek, "living"; having living power, as "the rod of the mouth and the breath of the lips" of "the living God."
powerful—Greek, "energetic"; not only living, but energetically efficacious.
two-edged—sharpened at both edge and back. Compare "sword of the Spirit … word of God" (Eph 6:17). Its double power seems to be implied by its being "two-edged." "It judges all that is in the heart, for there it passes through, at once punishing [unbelievers] and searching [both believers and unbelievers]" [Chrysostom]. Philo similarly speaks of "God passing between the parts of Abraham's sacrifices (Ge 15:17, where, however, it is a 'burning lamp' that passed between the pieces) with His word, which is the cutter of all things: which sword, being sharpened to the utmost keenness, never ceases to divide all sensible things, and even things not perceptible to sense or physically divisible, but perceptible and divisible by the word." Paul's early training, both in the Greek schools of Tarsus and the Hebrew schools at Jerusalem, accounts fully for his acquaintance with Philo's modes of thought, which were sure to be current among learned Jews everywhere, though Philo himself belonged to Alexandria, not Jerusalem. Addressing Jews, he by the Spirit sanctions what was true in their current literature, as he similarly did in addressing Gentiles (Ac 17:28).
piercing—Greek, "coming through."
even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit—that is, reaching through even to the separation of the animal soul, the lower part of man's incorporeal nature, the seat of animal desires, which he has in common with the brutes; compare the same Greek, 1Co 2:14, "the natural [animal-souled] man" (Jude 19), from the spirit (the higher part of man, receptive of the Spirit of God, and allying him to heavenly beings).
and of the joints and marrow—rather, "(reaching even TO) both the joints (so as to divide them) and marrow." Christ "knows what is in man" (Joh 2:25): so His word reaches as far as to the most intimate and accurate knowledge of man's most hidden parts, feelings, and thoughts, dividing, that is, distinguishing what is spiritual from what is carnal and animal in him, the spirit from the soul: so Pr 20:27. As the knife of the Levitical priest reached to dividing parts, closely united as the joints of the limbs, and penetrated to the innermost parts, as the marrows (the Greek is plural); so the word of God divides the closely joined parts of man's immaterial being, soul and spirit, and penetrates to the innermost parts of the spirit. The clause (reaching even to) "both the joints and marrow" is subordinate to the clause, "even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit." (In the oldest manuscripts as in English Version, there is no "both," as there is in the clause "both the joints and … which marks the latter to be subordinate). An image (appropriate in addressing Jews) from the literal dividing of joints, and penetrating to, so as to open out, the marrow, by the priest's knife, illustrating the previously mentioned spiritual "dividing of soul from spirit," whereby each (soul as well as spirit) is laid bare and "naked" before God; this view accords with Heb 4:13. Evidently "the dividing of the soul from the spirit" answers to the "joints" which the sword, when it reaches unto, divides asunder, as the "spirit" answers to the innermost "marrow." "Moses forms the soul, Christ the spirit. The soul draws with it the body; the spirit draws with it both soul and body." Alford's interpretation is clumsy, by which he makes the soul itself, and the spirit itself, to be divided, instead of the soul from the spirit: so also he makes not only the joints to be divided asunder, but the marrow also to be divided (?). The Word's dividing and far penetrating power has both a punitive and a healing effect.
discerner of the thoughts—Greek, "capable of judging the purposes."
intents—rather, "conceptions" [Crellius]; "ideas" [Alford]. AS the Greek for "thoughts" refers to the mind and feelings, so that for "intents," or rather "mental conceptions," refers to the intellect.
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.
13. creature—visible or invisible.
in his sight—in God's sight (Heb 4:12). "God's wisdom, simply manifold, and uniformly multiform, with incomprehensible comprehension, comprehends all things incomprehensible."
opened—literally, "thrown on the back so as to have the neck laid bare," as a victim with neck exposed for sacrifice. The Greek perfect tense implies that this is our continuous state in relation to God. "Show, O man, shame and fear towards thy God, for no veil, no twisting, bending, coloring, or disguise, can cover unbelief" (Greek, 'disobedience,' Heb 4:11). Let us, therefore, earnestly labor to enter the rest lest any fall through practical unbelief (Heb 4:11).
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.
14. Seeing then—Having, therefore; resuming Heb 2:17.
great—as being "the Son of God, higher than the heavens" (Heb 7:26): the archetype and antitype of the legal high priest.
passed into the heavens—rather, "passed through the heavens," namely, those which come between us and God, the aerial heaven, and that above the latter containing the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon, &c. These heavens were the veil which our High Priest passed through into the heaven of heavens, the immediate presence of God, just as the Levitical high priest passed through the veil into the Holy of Holies. Neither Moses, nor even Joshua, could bring us into this rest, but Jesus, as our Forerunner, already spiritually, and hereafter in actual presence, body, soul, and spirit, brings His people into the heavenly rest.
Jesus—the antitypical Joshua (Heb 4:8).
hold fast—the opposite of "let slip" (Heb 2:1); and "fall away" (Heb 6:6). As the genitive follows, the literally, sense is, "Let us take hold of our profession," that is, of the faith and hope which are subjects of our profession and confession. The accusative follows when the sense is "hold fast" [Tittmann].
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
15. For—the motive to "holding our profession" (Heb 4:14), namely the sympathy and help we may expect from our High Priest. Though "great" (Heb 4:14), He is not above caring for us; nay, as being in all points one with us as to manhood, sin only excepted, He sympathizes with us in every temptation. Though exalted to the highest heavens, He has changed His place, not His nature and office in relation to us, His condition, but not His affection. Compare Mt 26:38, "watch with me": showing His desire in the days of His flesh for the sympathy of those whom He loved: so He now gives His suffering people His sympathy. Compare Aaron, the type, bearing the names of the twelve tribes in the breastplate of judgment on his heart, when he entered into the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually (Ex 28:29).
cannot be touched with the feeling of—Greek, "cannot sympathize with our infirmities": our weaknesses, physical and moral (not sin, but liability to its assaults). He, though sinless, can sympathize with us sinners; His understanding more acutely perceived the forms of temptation than we who are weak can; His will repelled them as instantaneously as the fire does the drop of water cast into it. He, therefore, experimentally knew what power was needed to overcome temptations. He is capable of sympathizing, for He was at the same time tempted without sin, and yet truly tempted [Bengel]. In Him alone we have an example suited to men of every character and under all circumstances. In sympathy He adapts himself to each, as if He had not merely taken on Him man's nature in general, but also the peculiar nature of that single individual.
but—"nay, rather, He was (one) tempted" [Alford].
like as we are—Greek, "according to (our) similitude."
without sin—Greek, "choris," "separate from sin" (Heb 7:26). If the Greek "aneu" had been used, sin would have been regarded as the object absent from Christ the subject; but choris here implies that Christ, the subject, is regarded as separated from sin the object [Tittmann]. Thus, throughout His temptations in their origin, process, and result, sin had nothing in Him; He was apart and separate from it [Alford].
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
16. come—rather as Greek, "approach," "draw near."
boldly—Greek, "with confidence," or "freedom of speech" (Eph 6:19).
the throne of grace—God's throne is become to us a throne of grace through the mediation of our High Priest at God's right hand (Heb 8:1; 12:2). Pleading our High Priest Jesus' meritorious death, we shall always find God on a throne of grace. Contrast Job's complaint (Job 23:3-8) and Elihu's " If," &c. (Job 33:23-28).
mercy—"Compassion," by its derivation (literally, fellow feeling from community of suffering), corresponds to the character of our High Priest "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Heb 4:15).
find grace—corresponding to "throne of grace." Mercy especially refers to the remission and removal of sins; grace, to the saving bestowal of spiritual gifts [Estius]. Compare "Come unto Me … and I will give you rest (the rest received on first believing). Take My yoke on you … and ye shall find rest (the continuing rest and peace found in daily submitting to Christ's easy yoke; the former answers to "receive mercy" here; the latter, to "find grace," Mt 11:28, 29).
in time of need—Greek, "seasonably." Before we are overwhelmed by the temptation; when we most need it, in temptations and persecutions; such as is suitable to the time, persons, and end designed (Ps 104:27). A supply of grace is in store for believers against all exigencies; but they are only supplied with it according as the need arises. Compare "in due time," Ro 5:6. Not, as Alford explains, "help in time," that is, to-day, while it is yet open to us; the accepted time (2Co 6:2).
help—Compare Heb 2:18, "He is able to succor them that are tempted."