In chapter 1, we saw that because God’s Son was a better everything, it gave Him a name better than the angels (especially one angel in particular that has designs of his own on how things will go). That Son mad propitiation, or atonement for us, and then sat down because that work was finished. As a result, we read in chapter 2 that we need to pay closer attention to the things we have heard about Jesus and the truth that He is God’s chosen method of communicating with us today so that we would not drift away from it. The picture used was that of a safe harbour, and a navigator that was not paying due attention, slipped past the harbour entrance and shipwrecked on the rocks.
Then we are treated by the author to an exposition on Psalm 8, and it is hinted that God has some grand design for humans to be His universal administrators in the age to come. There was a definite statement of how for a short period of time, humans were made lower than the angels, but that in the end we would be at least equal to the angels in status and power. This is a definite thing, according to the author, although for now we do not see that – but we DO see HIM. The Son. We see Jesus, made like a man – one who tasted death for everyone that would ever believe in Him, and who incidentally made everything, including the angels – and He is a kind of forerunner and leader of those coming administrators, the coming priest-kings of the universe that will have sovereignty of, for, and by God.
This makes Jesus our high priest, it says at the end, one who now because he was made like us in that he suffered death, can have mercy on us, and who is faithful to extend to us grace as we are sanctified, that is made holy, like He is holy. Now in chapter 3, the book turns to who this Son Jesus is, and it begins by telling us to consider Him, and compares Him to Moses. Moses gave the Law, the old Covenant. By comparison, Jesus gave the New Covenant. Both were written by the will and hand of God. Both required obedience. As a result, it compares the two covenants and what obedience and disobedience looked like and warranted under each.
The chapter may be roughly broken down into an outline as follows, and this is what I will try to follow as we exposit verse by verse:
1 – 6: Jesus compared with Moses (Son versus servant)
7 – 11: The danger of disobedience under the Old Covenant
12 – 19 The danger of disobedience/unbelief under the New Covenant
With that in mind, let’s get into the chapter.
Jesus compared with Moses (Son versus servant)
1: Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession;
- The first word we see is “therefore,” and that joins this to the content that has come so far, as we discussed. We are then encouraged to consider Jesus. However, before we do, there are somethings that the author of Hebrews uses in terms of phrasing we should address, because they are part of the holy writ.
- See how the author addresses his audience – holy brethren. We should be very careful and particular about how we address our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are not just some other person, they are partakers of a heavenly calling, and are as far as earth is concerned, of more value than can be stated to God. They are holy like Christ is holy. Our words to them should reflect that. We should honour and bless them whenever we can. I recognize it isn’t always easy because of what Owen called “the body of sin” that Paul talks about in Romans 7, but nevertheless, we should consider them as brothers and sisters that belong to Christ.
- Jesus, the Apostle and High
Priest of our confession
- First, He is called the Apostle of our confession. Literally, the word apostolos means “one sent forth,” and is used of the Lord Jesus Christ here to describe His relation to God. In John 17:3, it says “That they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ who You have sent.” He was literally sent forth by the Father, and He came willingly to do the will of the Father.
- Second, He is called High Priest of our confession. The word archeiereus literally means “first priest” in terms of rank in an order. The job of the priest is twofold, remember – the priest represents man to God in all his sinfulness, and then the priest is to represent God to man in all His holiness. He stands in the spot of mediator, making the actual atonement for sinful humans to God. Throughout the Old Covenant, this was a position that was an inherited position owned by the family of Levi, specifically descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses. With Jesus’ finished work on the cross, His priesthood was determined by God to be eternally effective.
- And what are we to do with this information? We are to “consider” Him. Meaning to perceive, the word denotes an action of the mind in grasping and understanding certain facts about something. Here we are to grasp and understand Jesus and what He brings to the table (we have already started that).
2: He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house.
- There are of course natural differences in the covenants, but there are some similarities. Both Jesus and Moses were faithful and were appointed by God to administer the covenant they were given to deliver. Both were to deliver a covenant of separation from the world. Both covenants were given by God. Both men were priests of a sort: Moses was of the house of Levi, Aaron’s brother; Jesus, as we will see administers a different priesthood. And both men were faithful to God in what they were called to do.
- Remember, this is part of the encouragement of verse 1 to “consider Him,” that is Christ. The very first thing we are told here is that He was, like Moses, faithful [pistos, reliable]. The sense here is that He was trusted to perform what He was told to perform, as was Moses. The comparison between Jesus and Moses here would not be lost on the Jewish audience of this sermon/letter. To the Jew, there were few or none greater than the Lawgiver, and the author of Hebrews is here beginning to explain that Jesus is even greater than Moses. Verse 3…
3: For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house.
- The very first phrase of the next verse says that Jesus is worthy of more glory that Moses. With all the similarities we just discussed, there is one very major difference that we are about to discuss, and that is the next part of this verse.
- Jesus is the builder of the house. He is Creator. He is God. The God. John 1:1-3 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” In the analogy that the author uses here, if Jesus is the builder of the house, that makes Moses just a part of the house.
4: For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.
- Think about this. When we see a great structure, are we more likely to congratulate the structure itself, or the builder? Or in terms of a great painting or sculpture, who should get the credit (or glory)? The painting itself, or the painter? Or do we give glory to the vessel crafted by the potter, or the potter himself? These are rhetorical questions, meant to show what is actually being done by the person who praises the created thing instead of the creator, in this case Moses instead of Jesus.
- This should remind us of Romans 1:21-23, which says, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”
- And this kind of forsaking of giving the Creator His due has serious consequences. Romans 1:24-25 says, “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” God gives such reprobates over to the consequences of their own actions. They wanted to believe a lie, so God gave them one. And not “a lie,” but “THE lie” in Greek. You can only get away with hardening your own heart to the truth for so long before God will permanently harden it for you, apparently.
- Think of how we read in Exodus about how Moses would implore Pharaoh repeatedly to let God’s people Israel go. Time after time, we read, “…and Pharaoh hardened his heart…” and then some great plague would happen, and Pharaoh would relent until the next request. And this goes on for a number of chapters until we finally read in Exodus 11:10 that “…the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart…” From that point, the Lord was set against Egypt, who fled, and Pharaoh gave chase, and he and his entire army died in the Red Sea. No, we must give God his proper priority.
5: Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later;
- The author begins to inform us in this verse that Moses was also faithful in all His house. Details are important – this House was not Moses’ house, it was God’s house – shown here by the capitalization of ‘Him.” How does the Holy Spirit identify the role of Moses in God’s house? “Servant.” Further, the Holy Spirit says that Moses was faithful in all of God’s house as a servant as a witness of things that would come (and be spoken) later. That is a reference to Jesus and His work on the cross. Do you see it? Judaism today is but a shadow of the perfect that came in Christ. The entire Old Covenant was just a shadow of things to come! Judaism is fulfilled in Christ! By Christ! For the glory of God! Sola Deo gloria!
- Now we must understand and remember two things here – the target audience of this letter, and then the very high view of Moses that all Jews had. First, we have to recall that there were three groups of people that this letter or sermon was targeted to: 1) The Jew who had become a believer, 2) the Jew who intellectually agreed with Jesus as Messiah but had not made a life commitment to Him, and finally 3) the unbelieving Jew. I personally think this is reflective of God’s house today, the church. In the visible church, we have believers, those who give mental assent but have not made life commitments to him, and unbelievers, so don’t holler about “relevance” to me. This becomes important when we view the second thing.
- All practicing Jews, even today, have a very high view of Moses. Think about who Moses was. He was the fellow that spoke face to face with God like a man speaks with His friend. Moses saw God’s glory as the Lord passed by. God’s glory was directly transmitted to Moses’ face, and all of Israel feared him as he came to deliver the law of God. Moses, as a result of that, was the great Lawgiver. He was something, and is even a great example of how to walk with the Lord for Christians today! There was no person more humble, none more important in the formation of Israel as a nation, none more influential in Jewish thought. God delivered him as an infant under an attempted infanticide in Egypt. God spoke to Moses through a burning bush, through a cloud, through a pillar of fire, and face to face like a man with his friend. And it was God that had the last word on Moses life, and where he was buried and what happened to his body. That is Moses and his legacy.
- The problem here is that Moses was a part of the house, and knew he was only a servant, foreshadowing the New Covenant to come later. Moses was a servant over someone else’s house, as great as he was.
6: but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.
- And there is the difference between Jesus and Moses. Moses was a servant in somebody else’s house. Jesus was a Son over His own House. He built the house, as it says in verse 4. As great as Moses was, he was still only a servant, albeit a great one. Everything I said a bout Moses earlier is actually true. And yet, the point of the author is that Jesus is even better than Moses.
- And we are that house! Today’s equivalent of the House of God is the church. And it tells us in this very verse that we belong to it – IF we hold fast our confidence, that is the freeness of our speech, refusing to be muzzled by a society that seems increasingly interested in silencing us permanently – and our boast, the vocal praising of our Lord – of our hope, that is our final expectation, FIRM, solidly, steadfastly, until the end, the telos, the final conclusion where hope becomes reality.
- This speaks of another of the Doctrines of Grace – Perseverance of the Saints. This is the idea that when someone makes a profession of salvation in Christ, that if it was a real profession, that individual will persevere until the Lord returns for Him (be that at the individual’s death or otherwise). That individual will be being sanctified, a little at a time, come what may. It doesn’t mean that they get it right all the time, but it does mean that they stick at it. They may even go away for a time, but in the final analysis, they were chosen of God and maintained to very end.
- The converse of this is also true. If one were to make a profession of faith in Christ and then live like there is no difference in their lives at all, we would rightly suspect that they are a false convert. If they are not persevering, they were not saved in the first place. And if no difference can be seen from before their profession of faith, that is a false conversion. You cannot separate Jesus Christ into “Saviour OR Lord.” He must be both Saviour and Lord, or your profession is vain, and you will simply NOT persevere. Think of how this would have sounded to those people that had decided Jesus was the Messiah but had not repented and believed in their hearts that God had raised Jesus from the dead. And think of how that would sound to the unbelievers in their midst. It would have been a strong call to repent and believe issued through the author of the letter by the Holy Spirit, who would then work it out in the chosen ones God had deemed it time to attract.
- And that Christ is thus shown to be better than Moses. Servant is not better than Son. Part of the house is not like head of the house.
The danger of disobedience under the Old Covenant
7: Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear His voice,
- As a natural development from the statement of confidence that the author makes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he now turns to Psalm 95:7c-11, which the author quotes in its entirety. We will slow it down a bit and go verse by verse here to see what the Holy Spirit, the real author of the letter, has to say to us.
- First, we see our favorite word, “therefore.” What conclusion is being drawn from what has come before, that is the comparison that tells us that as important and good as Moses was, Jesus is more important and better?
- First, the author of Hebrews is revealing the real author of Scripture – the Holy Spirit. “…just as the Holy Spirit says…” And what is the Spirit saying? Well, in His own words, “Today, if you hear His voice…” Who is “His referring to? It could be referring to any of the Godhead, and I don’t think it matters here because of the warning that comes.
8: “DO not harden your hearts as when they provoked ME, AS in the day of trial in the wilderness,
- I think it’s kind of cool there this is verse 8 in both texts, but I don’t think that in itself means much. What I do like is that the author gives the meanings of the place names used in Psalm 95:8, “Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, As in the day of Massah in the wilderness,” Meribah is a Hebrew word meaning “place of strife,” or according to God, “where they provoked Me.” Massah is Hebrew for “testing,” or in the sense used here a temptation or trial.
- Now the Jewish audience would have understood this reference, but because I cannot assume everyone will understand this, it refers to an event during the exodus from Egypt, in Exodus 17:1-7, which reads, “Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us, or not?””
- The people of Israel were in the desert – ironically called the Wilderness of Sin – and there was no water to drink. I know we have gone over this before, but God had brought them to this wilderness so that He might display His power and goodness toward His people. They were not in this place by accident. There was no water to drink, it was a desert. Now put yourself in that place for a minute. You have come to a place where there are no resources that you need to survive, never mind move forward. As a child of God, what should we do? Well, we should turn to our heavenly Father and ask for His provision, right? But what did they do (and what do we so often do)? They picked a fight with Moses for bringing them to this place.
- This past week, I saw a cartoon illustration of a pastor being yelled at by members of his congregation. “Why study the Book of Numbers?!?” said one fellow. “Thirty-six chapters of people who do nothing but whine when they don’t get what they want,” exclaimed a lady in the congregation. And then the punchline from a third fellow, “Give us something RELEVANT!” Priceless. We aren’t getting what we want, we aren’t feeling the direction here, let’s pick a fight with the pastor. I’ve seen that, more than a few times, and a couple as the pastor. I got told that I refer to the Greek and Hebrew too much, and that my sermons take on a grammatical, lexicographic characteristic I could use less of, they say. I take all comments like that as constructive criticism to a point, and I pray about it, but I have to tell you that when I’m giving the Greek or Hebrew I think it is important to the study of the text and impactful to the understanding. You have to understand that I am charged with being a servant of God who is to “accurately handle the Word of Truth.” If I can’t tell you what the original means, then I’m not accurately handling anything. Also, if those comments were NOT intended as constructive criticism, then I have some different words for you.
- For those that would pick a fight with the pastor and then try to bully him into what not to teach by either manipulation or threatening to remove his paycheck, I say this. If you will read your church covenant with your pastor, you will see that I do not actually work for the congregation or the denomination. I work directly for God as His minister (servant). If you are attempting to bully me into saying only things you like or agree with because you hate the truth and think you’re somebody with actual power in the church, I would suggest, my dear Diotrephes, that my Father is bigger than your father, the devil. Be advised that I pray about these things, and I am actually accountable to give a report about the state of your soul and how you walk under my leadership. My friend, please do not go down this path. Or in the words of the Holy Spirit here, “Do not harden your heart like when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness.” You are NOT here by accident. There is not one atom out of place for the Sovereign God of the Universe. And your bad actions may rid your congregation of me, but all of those people died over a 40-year period wandering in that wilderness without a sense of real direction. I daresay, it didn’t work out so well for Diotrephes either. Verse 9.
9: Where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, And saw MY works for forty years.
- Here, the Holy Spirit is directly saying that their attempt to test God by bullying His leaders in the congregation didn’t work out so well for them, referring to the 40 years that the children of Israel spent wandering needlessly in the wilderness. Did you know that from the place that they crossed the Red Sea to the promised land was a 2-3 week journey? And when the leader survived their bullying attempts, they would not follow direction when they reached the promised land and enter and take it – so God judged them – and every single one of them save two, Caleb and Joshua – died in that wilderness over a period of 40 years. They saw His works for 40 years. And I’m betting they weren’t happy about it.
10: “Therefore I was angry with this generation, And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, And they did not know MY ways’;
- See? The Holy Spirit tells us that He was grieved with them! And He even tells us why. “They always go astray in their heart, and they did not know My ways,” he says. None of them were real believers is one way of looking at that. They did not persevere, and that is proof that they never belonged to God in the first place. They were REPROBATE, as per Romans 1:28-32 – “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” And as we read through the rest of the Exodus narrative, we see this repeatedly.
11: AS I swore in MY wrath, ‘They shall not enter MY rest.’”
- There are always consequences for those that will not obey the Lord and will harden their hearts. The author is about to explain this in verse 12, but this is the final part of the quote from Psalm 8. These reprobate individuals incurred to themselves the penalty of the wrath of God. As stated here, it means those who are reprobate will not enter into God’s rest. I could go into what that means, but I’ll just give the reference in Matt. 11:18-20. Jesus there talks about the rest He has for everyone that will believe Him, the real call to obedience seen in the Old Covenant as shadows in the sacrifices. There they looked forward to Messiah the suffering servant. We now look back on the sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah on the cross as He died in our place, the Lamb that was slain from before the foundation of the world.
12: Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.
- For this reason, the Holy Spirit tells us that we need to take care. The Greek here is the word blepo is used here, and it means to beware, or to look to your own safety. We are to take pains to be careful, according to this word.
- We are to be careful that there is not in any one of us and evil, unbelieving heart. That Greek phrase is kardia ponera apistias, which may be translated as a “toilsome, unfaithful heart.” That is an important Greek phrase because it is not a heart that will persevere to the end, which we spoke of earlier as one of the five Doctrines of Grace, that is, the Perseverance of the Saints, the final one. I do not think after all the talk in Scripture about how God is Sovereign, and that He chose for His own reasons a people for Himself and then gave those people to His Son before the foundation of the World, that this has anything to do with a choice we make to be saved and not follow Christ. If you have one of these hearts, you are not His, and you are not saved.
- That falls away from the living God. Falls away is aphistemi, to depart from, or to lead away, or to be lead away. It is not clear from the Greek if this is a choice of some kind, so you cannot make it say either thing – the purpose must be different. The living God is a phrase that could also mean ‘the God who is life.” Either way, we must be careful that if we want to follow Him, that we have a good and believing heart. And if you don’t and don’t want one, you are in church or the pulpit because…?
13: But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
- This is the explanation of HOW we should be taking care, not just for ourselves, but for all the brothers and sisters who claim Christ as their own. We are to encourage, or exhort one another. The word in Greek for this should be familiar to us by now – parakaleo. To come alongside to help. That can be verbal, it can be some expression of mercy, or it can be a warning, as long as it is meant to help – and not just once.
- We are to do this every day! Day after day! As long as it is called “Today!” This is to be an ongoing project, beloved!
- Why do we do this? So that no one will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Puritan theologian John Owen wrote in His work The Mortification of Sin that this mechanism of hardening is the very essence of how sin works. When a believer gives place to it, it stiffens and hardens until that believer repents, and by then there are consequences for giving place to it. In an unbeliever, the process is much faster, much more serious, and much worse in that one cannot continue to give place to sin without eventually being brought to the point where repentance is no longer possible. That’s spoken of later in this very book.
- And this is made MORE dangerous because SIN is never hard to say yes to, and it will always be masquerading as something you “need,” although it is really only a want. This becomes serious for an unbeliever, because one cannot keep hardening their own hearts as Pharaoh did. It started as Pharaoh hardening his heart against the people of Israel when Moses asked for them to go out into the wilderness and worship. We talked about this in verse 4 today. It ended with God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, presumably permanently, and then took Pharaoh’s life when they tried to pursue Israel through the Red Sea.
- John Owen said it this way: “If you will not be killing sin, it will be killing you.”
14: For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end,
- No one wants sin to kill them. No one. Not even that foaming-at-the-mouth atheist Richard Dawkins who wrote a book called The God Delusion. Personally, I think the one who is deluded is Professor Dawkins. I pray he finds out before its too late for him.
- Instead, if we have called on the name of the Lord, we have become partakers of Christ, or have become sharers in Christ, in His divine nature, according to Peter (2 Peter 1:4), IF we HOLD FAST the beginning of our assurance firm until the end. The word here is katecho, to hold fast. We get our English word catechism from it. It implies that we have something to learn that we hold onto. Beloved, my suggestion here is that we learn Christ, and that we learn to submit to Him, as we heard last week. He is the beginning of our assurance. In this usage, it may be used as “guarantee,” or “reality.”
- Note that this is a conditional IF statement. We spoke earlier about how Jesus needs to be the Lord we submit to, not simply a guy that died in our place so we could live however we want. The concepts of Saviour and Lord cannot be separated with Jesus. He must be both, or He will be neither. We must submit to “stand under” our “support,” all possible ways to translate hupostasis, the Greek word used in the text.
15: while it is said, “Today if you hear His voice, DO not harden your hearts, as when they provoked ME.”
- To NOT submit to the Lord Jesus Christ is to hear His voice and harden your heart, and that will simply provoke Him.
16: For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses?
- And don’t think calling yourself a Christian and then living however you please is any kind of defense against incurring the wrath of the Lamb! I am sure that the people that came out of Israel under Moses had that idea too.
17: And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?
- And not a single one of those people – with the notable exceptions of Joshua (Moses’ faithful replacement) and Caleb (an obedient man that pleased God) – entered the land, but died in the wilderness over a period of 40 years.
18: And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient?
- Well, them! Because of their disobedience!
19: So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.
- Something worth noting is that the Greek word for faith and belief are the same Greek word. Pistis is the word, but in English, we call the noun form faith and the verb form believe. In Hebrew, we can add a word to the mix – OBEY. Obedience is the direct result of faith, or obedience, and in Hebrew, it is not possible to divorce the two concepts.
- What the passage is saying is that all those who died in the wilderness died because they did not obey, a clear sign of their unbelief, or lack of faith. The chapter ends with this frightening object lesson from history to tell us in the strongest possible terms to submit in humble obedience to Christ. Don’t live contrary to the will of God and incur His wrath.
And that’s the chapter!