16 October 2015

Hebrews 4:1-11

“So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labours as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.” (vv. 9-11)

Psalm: Psalm 111


There were few things a 1st-century Jewish teacher enjoyed more than a complicated discussion about the interpretation of Hebrew scripture. And here we have a good example! Continuing from yesterday's passage, the writer is using Psalm 95 to exhort their Jewish Christian readers to hold on to their new faith in Jesus as Messiah and divine Son of God, and to remain obedient to him. But it is done in a rather roundabout way, via the Genesis creation story, the Sabbath, and Joshua! There is a link between them, certainly in Jewish interpretation of scripture. The sabbath day, the day of rest and blessing, was understood to reflect the seventh day of creation, when God rested. It was also linked, in Deuteronomy 5, to the Exodus story: just as God liberated Israel from slavery in Egypt, so should the Jews allow a day of rest for their own servants and slaves, children and animals. And the idea of "sabbath rest" was extended to the principle of allowing the land to lie fallow on a regular basis, and to releasing people from their debts, for example. Here, a link is made with the rest offered in the Promised Land after 40 years in the wilderness, when Joshua led Israel into Canaan.

But what is suggested here is that, in fact, Israel never truly rested and knew the real blessings of the Sabbath: "A Sabbath rest still remains for the people of God". Israel has not yet arrived in the place that God has prepared for them. God's promise has not been fulfilled. But now those Jews who believe the good news about Jesus, the fulfilment of God's promise to Israel, can "enter that rest". God's blessings are for them - for Jews who believe that Jesus is Messiah and divine Son of God. Jesus (the Greek name for Joshua, by the way) succeeded where Joshua failed.

To Ponder

  • When Paul used this kind of complicated biblical argument he did so to show how Gentiles (non-Jews) are now part of the people of God through their faith in Jesus. But for the writer to the Hebrews the true people of God are only those Jews who believe the gospel (the good news). Who do you think was right? Why?
  • For the writer to the Hebrews (but not for Paul), Jews who do notaccept Jesus as Messiah and Son of God are excluded from God's promises. Do you agree? Why?
  • Does the idea of entering God's rest appeal to you? How might the broader concept of Sabbath influence your thinking and behaviour?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Rhymer

The Revd David Rhymer has done a number of things over the last 40-odd years - including teaching (science), publishing (theology), full-time ministry (Baptist and Methodist) and national Methodist Team work (training & development officer for Cornwall). More recently he has been responsible for a part-time theology degree course at Exeter University, and until 2017, was involved with teaching students preparing for ministry in the south-west.