Hebrews: Enter God’s Rest (4:1-11)

This passage continues the thought of the previous chapter. The author of Hebrews used Psalm 95:7-11 to demonstrate that the generation coming out of Egypt failed to enter into God’s rest, or the promised land, because of their disbelief. Now he turns his attention to the current generation and the invitation we have to enter into God’s rest.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

The Promise of Entering God’s Rest Still Stands

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.

Hebrews 4:1-2 NIV

Hebrews 3:7-19 discussed the failure of the Exodus generation to enter into God’s rest. But it is challenging to see how to derive the promise that this chapter starts with. That the promise of entering God’s rest still stands. But it is there. And the author explains it more fully in Hebrews 4:3-9. For now, it is enough to recognize that the invitation to enter into God’s rest is still open. And it is open to the audience of this letter to the Hebrews. As well as to believers today.

Here again the author expresses his concern that some may fall short. That some who have started the journey of faith may, in the end, fall short. And then be unable to enter into God’s rest. We need to be careful that that is not true of us.

The Good News

You might argue that the ‘good news’ proclaimed to us is not the same as what was proclaimed to the Exodus generation. But the heart of the message is the same. It was a message of deliverance from slavery either to Egypt or to sin. It was a message to enter into covenant relationship with God. To obediently follow where he leads. And to hold onto the hope that was set before us.

The message itself is good news. But it only has value to those who hear it and then respond in obedience to it. Most of the Exodus generation failed to obey, and so fell short. But there were two, Joshua and Caleb, who did hear the message and responded in faith. And they entered into God’s rest. So today, there are some who hear and obey, and enter God’s rest.

The Promise Still Stands

Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,
“So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.’”

And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.”

And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”

Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God;

Hebrews 4:3-9 NIV

The author may seem to be talking in circles here. But he is using Genesis 2:2, Psalm 95:7-8, and Psalm 95:11 to demonstrate that God’s rest is still available to us today.

The Sabbath Rest

Genesis 2:2 says that on the seventh day God rested from all his works. This verse, in isolation, would not seem to have much to say about our salvation. But the author understands it to be more than just a note about God taking a short break from his labors. As though the creation of a universe was exhausting for him.

At the end of the passage quoted here he mentions a Sabbath-rest for God’s people. This most likely comes from Exodus 20:8-11, the fourth commandment that established the seventh day as a day of rest for God’s people. The author sees these two passages as being connected together. God rested. And in establishing the Sabbath, he is inviting us to rest. To enter into his rest.

The Promised Land as God’s Rest

God promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that the land that he had brought them to would be theirs. Although they lived in the land as pilgrims, the promise was still something that they looked forward to. When Moses led Israel out of Egypt, it was to return to that land. It was a move away from slavery, and into the freedom of being God’s covenant people. It was entering into God’s rest.

But, as Psalm 95:8-11 summarizes so well, they failed to trust that God would give them that land. And, as a result, they failed to enter it and died in the wilderness instead. 40 years after leaving Egypt they finally did go into the promised land under Joshua’s leadership. But, even though they were in the land, they continued to be guilty of the same disbelief and disobedience that had caused their forebears to die in the wilderness. And so, according to the author, they had not really entered into God’s rest.

Today

The author attributes this psalm to David, who lived several hundred years after the Exodus and conquest of the land. And he, speaking through the Holy Spirit, said, “Today, if only you would hear his voice, ‘Do not harden your hearts’.” The author understands this to mean that when David was speaking, the invitation to enter God’s rest was still open. Today, don’t be like your ancestors who disobeyed and failed to enter into God’s rest.

It might seem like Joshua had brought the people into God’s rest. But David’s words here indicate that was not the case. If Joshua had given them rest, then the offer to enter would not still be open 400 years later. While that logic might be strange to us today, it is very integral to the author’s argument concerning the invitation to enter into God’s rest.

God has a rest for his people. Many in the past have been invited to enter, but failed because of disbelief. But his invitation is still open to us today.

Make Every Effort to Enter God’s Rest

for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.
Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:10-11 NIV

Resting from Our Own Works

The one who enters God’s rest, rests from their own work. This is a challenging statement to understand. But it may well be that the author here is referring to something similar to Ephesians 2:8-10. Entering into God’s rest is synonymous with salvation. Salvation is a work of God, not my own. I need to cease from my own attempts to be ‘good enough’ to find favor with God.

But most assuredly it does not mean that once I am saved I can kick back and take it easy. That nothing more is expected of me. Many seem to take that attitude, but it is hard to justify when you look at the lives of the apostles and what they had to teach us. We are called to service. To work. We are not working to earn our salvation. But because of our salvation. Not to keep our salvation. But out of obedient and faithful hearts.

Make Every Effort

To make every effort to enter into God’s rest sounds, on the surface at least, like we are being told to work for our salvation. But look back to the example the author is drawing from. The Exodus generation for the most part failed to enter into God’s rest. Why? It was not because they did not work hard enough. It was because of their disobedience and lack of faith in God’s provision. Even though they came out of Egypt and entered into covenant with God at Sinai, they never did fully trust him. They complained over and over. And when they came to the border of Canaan, they turned away in fear.

So, the author’s admonition to us here is to not be like them. Don’t be disobedient to God’s call in your life. Trust him and be faithful. And if you do, you will enter into God’s rest.

Hebrews Study Post List

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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