The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Applying Hebrews 4: Stretching a Metaphor


AUDIO VERSION: YouTube  Podbean

This is a continuation of Applying Hebrews 3: Yahweh’s Rest.

In our last lesson, we learned about how the Jews back in Moses’ day got themselves cursed by Yahweh to die in the wilderness because they wouldn’t stop treating Him with contempt. We also learned how entering the Promised Land is referred to in the Old Testament as entering “Yahweh’s rest.” If the Israelites were faithful to Yahweh, He promised them an abundant, blessed life in the Promised Land. But of course they weren’t faithful, so He filled their lives with hardships. Our author (who we’re calling Rabbi) is now borrowing this well-known concept of “Yahweh’s rest”, and turning it into a metaphor for Heaven. A joyful life in Heaven becomes the Christian’s parallel to the ancient Jews entering some lush land where life was going to be nothing but bliss.

Yahweh’s promise of entering His rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this Good News—that Yahweh has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to Yahweh. (Heb. 4:1-2)

This is a metaphor and metaphors are never perfect. It’s a bit much for Rabbi to say that “Yahweh’s promise of entering His rest still stands.” No, it really doesn’t, because the original “rest” that Yahweh promised in the Old Covenant was about giving Israel a sweet life on earth if the entire nation remained faithful to Him. Under the New Covenant, Jesus throws out the idea of getting a sweet life on earth in exchange for spiritual obedience. On the contrary, He promises that being faithful to Him will land us in all sorts of strife and conflict in this world. So there isn’t any Old Covenant promise being continued here—the “rest” we Christians are looking forward to is the bliss of Heaven. Eternal rest in some pain-free Paradise is the rest that Yahweh promises us in His “Good News”.

Continuing on with his comparison of New Covenant believers with Old Testament Jews who were banned from the Promised Land, Rabbi says that the promise of a sweet life didn’t do the Old Testament Jews any good because they were so rebellious. They refused to obey Yahweh, therefore they never got to experience His promised blessings. In the same way, if souls today refuse to align with the terms of Yahweh’s New Covenant—which means submitting to Christ as a second God—then they will also never experience any of the blessings Yahweh has promised to Christians. In other words, non-Christians won’t end up in Heaven.

Now let’s remember that this change in Covenants has just happened in Rabbi’s lifetime. This is a brand new, radical shift. If the Jews he is talking to were sincerely devoted to Yahweh under the Old Covenant, then they were on their way to Heaven. Suddenly Christ comes and their promise of salvation is ripped away from them unless they change gears and submit to this new God. It’s more than a little disconcerting to think you’re on God’s good side only to be told you’re actually on the side of His wrath. Rabbi is urging these Jews not to stall around about fully embracing the New Covenant.

For only we who believe can enter His rest. As for the others, Yahweh said: “In My anger I took an oath: ‘They will never enter My place of rest,’” [Ps. 95:11] even though this rest has been ready since He made the world. We know it is ready because of the place in the Scriptures where it mentions the seventh day: “On the seventh day God rested from all His work.” [Gen. 2:2] But in the other passage Yahweh said, “They will never enter My place of rest.” (Heb. 4:3-5)

Here Rabbi quotes a line from the creation account in Genesis 2 as proof that Heaven has been prepared for people since the very beginning of this world. What kind of convoluted logic is this? Neither Heaven nor Hell are mentioned in the Creation account. The fact that Yahweh describes Himself as taking a day off from creating things doesn’t have bumpkus to do with the New Covenant or with Christians going to Heaven. This is another fine example of Rabbi’s irresponsible teaching style. The man feels free to rip any random phrase out of the Bible and make it say whatever he wants it to say.

So Yahweh’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this Good News failed to enter because they disobeyed Yahweh. So Yahweh set another time for entering His rest, and that time is today. Yahweh announced this through David much later in the words already quoted: “Today when you hear His Voice, don’t harden your hearts.” [Ps. 95:7-8] (Heb. 4:6-7)

Rabbi is being utterly ridiculous to keep harking back to the Jews failing to enter the Promised Land. To compare Yahweh’s promise to lead the Jews to their own homeland with the promise of Christians going to Heaven is absurd. And to try and imply that Heaven is an attempt on Yahweh’s part to give people a second chance at entering a Promised Land—well, no, this metaphor has been stretched to ridiculous extremes.

In the first place, the original Jews refused to enter the Promised Land because they saw a bunch of scary looking people in it who they thought would beat them to a pulp if they tried to invade. There are no scary bullies in Heaven, nor are we Christians refusing to enter it because we think we won’t survive there.

In the second place, Yahweh banned the Jews from the Promised Land in response to their initial refusal to enter it and also in response to their long history of despising Him. A soul today who sincerely repents and comes to Christ seeking salvation is not going to be turned away because of his long history of willful defiance.

We understand the point Rabbi is trying to make. He’s saying, “Hey, remember that time when our ancestors got themselves condemned for defying Yahweh for too long? We mustn’t be like them. We need to obey now—while Yahweh is still willing to accept us.” This is a good point to be making, but spinning off into Genesis and saying that Yahweh putting the hammer down on the seventh day has something to do with our future in Heaven is absurd.

Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, Yahweh would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of Yahweh. For all who have entered into Yahweh’s rest have rested from their labors, just as Yahweh did after creating the world. So let us do our best to enter that rest. (Heb. 4:8-11)

Joshua succeeded Moses as Israel’s leader, and he was the guy who actually led the Jews into the Promised Land. Now of course the original inhabitants of that land didn’t just throw up their hands and surrender. They came out in force against the Jews and the book of Joshua describes battle after battle as the Israelites slowly gained ground. There’s nothing pretty about strangers marching into your homeland, killing you, and taking your stuff. Territory takeovers are ugly business. Happily for us, we won’t have to blast our way into Heaven and gun down the current occupants of our heavenly mansions. There are definite problems with Rabbi comparing the Promised Land on earth with our future in Heaven. But after drawing many comparisons between these two things, Rabbi now starts insisting that they’re different after all. Now he says that the Jews entering their Promised Land on earth isn’t the “rest” Yahweh is talking about, when He says “They will never enter My place of rest” in Psalm 95. Now Rabbi says that Yahweh was really talking about a different rest—Heaven.

Well this is just more foolishness. The writer of Psalm 95 was clearly referring to the Jews physically entering the Promised Land, not to Heaven. Heaven was a very uncertain idea for Old Testament Jews. David thought he was going to end up in Sheol when he died—that fictitious underworld located in the bowels of the planet where souls drifted aimlessly about. Jonah thought he had a near miss with Sheol when he was trapped for so long in the belly of a fish. The Jews had a lot of superstitions about what happened to their souls when they died and none of them were accurate. So for Rabbi to suggest that the writer of Psalm 95 (who he assumes is David even though David’s name isn’t listed anywhere) is really talking about Heaven—that’s a ridiculous stretch. The best we can do for Rabbi is to say that yes, Heaven is certainly a type of rest that we’re all looking forward to.

But if we disobey Yahweh, as the people of Israel did, we will fall. (Heb. 4:11)

This verse can strike terror into the heart of any Christian who is feeling uncertain about his salvation. Remember that under the New Covenant, salvation is permanent. But according to Rabbi, if we’re not perfect, we’re goners.

For the word of Yahweh is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from Yahweh. Everything is naked and exposed before His eyes, and He is the One to whom we are accountable. (Heb. 4:12-13)

Here’s a passage that will sound familiar to many of you. It pops up in a very surprising context, doesn’t it? What does all this stuff about the word of Yahweh have to do with this discussion about Yahweh’s rest? Well, when an ancient Jew talks about “the word of Yahweh”, he is referring to God’s spoken words, not the Bible. Today Christians call the entire Bible “The Word of God.” This isn’t what the ancient Jews did. They called written portions of the Old Testament “Scripture” or “God’s Law” or “the Book of Moses” or “the Torah”. But when they said “the word of God”, they meant things that Yahweh had actually said.

In this chapter and in the previous one, Rabbi has been pounding us with a few lines from Psalm 95 over and over again. Even though this psalm was written by a human who was putting words in God’s mouth for Him, Rabbi talks like Yahweh Himself spoke these words. And after giving us his interpretation of why Yahweh’s words in Psalm 95 are so relevant to slacking Christians, Rabbi then tries to scare his audience with a sober reminder of just how powerful and convicting Yahweh’s words are. You’re not going to get away with any shenanigans when it comes to God assessing your heart attitude towards Him. If you’re not fully committed, He could cut you off—that’s the point Rabbi is emphasizing here. We can tell this by his punch line: “Yahweh is the One to whom we are accountable.”  Yahweh sees all. Yahweh knows all. And Yahweh is going to judge you, so you’d better be sure you are doing it right. Rabbi wants his audience to be terrified of landing on the wrong side of eternity—of being banned from Yahweh’s glorious rest. Then, after freaking everyone out with the ominous reminder of how Yahweh is scrutinizing their most secret thoughts, Rabbi then turns back to hope by saying:

So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered Heaven, Jesus the Son of Yahweh, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same testings we do, yet He did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Heb. 4:14-16)

One minute Rabbi makes it sound like one false move and we’re done for. The next minute, he brings Jesus back into the picture—this time introducing Him as the compassionate High Priest who will intercede with Yahweh on our behalf.

Now remember these are Old Covenant Jews who spent their whole lives immersed in the sacrificial system. Human priests were a critical part of that system. There was only one high priest at a time, just as the Catholics only have one pope at a time. The high priest was viewed as having the greatest clout with Yahweh, for he was the only one who could perform certain sacrifices and he was the only one allowed to enter the Most Holy Place (an inner room of the Temple) where the Ark of the Covenant (Yahweh’s figurative throne) was kept. So when Rabbi calls Jesus our High Priest, he’s saying that Jesus is the highest ranking spiritual intercessor that there is. It’s all fine to exalt Christ, but there are major theological problems with the title of “High Priest.”

Under the New Covenant, Yahweh has thrown out the sacrificial system, and He’s done away with all forms of intercession between Him and us. Under this Covenant, we submit to all three of our Creators, and once we do, we are permanently accepted by Them and invited to interact with Them directly. Christ is not interceding with Yahweh for you. Neither is the Holy Spirit. This popular image of Christ bringing our prayers to Yahweh is absolute rubbish (see Intercession: Exposing the Lies).

One of the radical new ideas of the New Covenant is that because our sins are completely atoned for by Christ—past, present and future—all distance between us and our Creators is abolished and we are invited by Them to come up close. There is no more standing in some outer court of the Temple watching Levitical priests get to enter secret chambers that you’re excluded from. There is no more giving your lamb to a human being and hoping he does a good job of presenting it to Yahweh on your behalf. This Covenant calls us to seek a direct, intimate, one-on-one relationship with our Gods. There is no fear that your sins will once again make you unclean in Their sight.

This Covenant is infused with an amazing element of peace, freedom and rest that was just not there in the days of priests and sacrifices. This is a very different kind of Covenant. If the Old Covenant was a militant salute, the New Covenant is a slow dance in a dark, candlelit room. The Old Covenant emphasized reverential distance, but the New Covenant emphasizes joyful intimacy. The New Covenant is thrilling, and Rabbi is going to do a very bad job of describing it because he’s spent a lifetime doing things the old way. You need to not let Rabbi’s lack of understanding hamper you in your own relationship with your Gods.

UP NEXT: Applying Hebrews 5: More Lies About Christ

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