Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it. (Heb. 4:1)
As I continue to read Hebrews I am struck by what a problematic text it is for so many Christians. Ben Witherington has recently posted on his blog an excerpt from a forthcoming book that wrestles with apostasy and Hebrews 6, for example. What is so challenging for many is, I think that the author of Hebrews understands our lives as unfolding and not static, including our relationship with God. As Ben Witherington notes,
Sanctification and perseverance to the end, as it turns out, is not purely engineered either by divine fiat, or by the internal workings of the Holy Spirit, as if the believer were placed on a holy escalator to heaven from which he could never jump off. Thus, the subject of apostasy is addressed here not as a merely hypothetical possibility, but as a real danger for Christians in the audience.
The emphasis of our author (and Witherington, if I am reading him rightly) is not on the possibility of apostasy, though he does warn his readers to take it seriously, but rather he seeks to encourage his audience to respond to God’s call and to remain within that call through a life of faithfulness, as he says, “let us hold fast to our confession.”
I mentioned in a previous post that part of what I find so enjoyable about Hebrews is that the author draws so deeply from the well of Scripture. Our passage above is preceded by a remembrance of Num. 14ff and Israel’s refusal to accept the gift of rest in the Promise Land. He seeks to bring his audience, an audience that I am convinced was primarily made up of Jewish Christians, into the position of Israel, recently liberated from slavery in Egypt, a community that had witnessed numerous miracles (and a few punishments), and stood on the cusp of entering into the rest that God had promised them. This is our heritage, the author says, but do not let it be your destiny.
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
The author of Hebrews cites Ps. 95:7 several times (five, if my count is right, in Heb. 3 and 4) and places slightly different emphasis upon it according to the context of his argument. In chapter 3 he beings the argument outlined above, calling his audience to remain firm in their belief and to not stray as did Israel. But then he focuses upon the fact that the psalmist urges his audience to harken to God’s voice היום “today.”
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Heb. 3:13)
The purpose of reflecting on the past sinfulness is to urge us on to remaining faithful today. We are as a body to encourage one another, and I love this phrase, “as long as it is called ‘today.'” Never cease in encouraging one another to remain firm in the faith.
Hebrews’ use of היום always reminds me of the central portion ofShema.
6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. (Deut. 6:6-7)
When are we allowed to not dwell on God’s words to Israel? Um, let’s see, never? If I am not at home I am away. If I am not away I am home. Just so the author of Hebrews tells us that “today” is the very day when we must encourage one another and it is the very day when we may enter into his sabbath rest.
9 So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; 10 for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs. (Heb. 4:9-11)