Israel had some great leaders in their past, men such as Moses and Joshua. Moses led them to the edge of the promised land. Joshua led them into the promised land.
However, Jesus is so much better. Let’s consider how this point is made in Hebrews chapter four.
“Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it” (Hebrews 4:1).
The “rest” mentioned refers to a rest to come. It is introduced without explanation. Albert Barnes comments, “There can be no doubt that Paul refers here to heaven” (Barnes Notes).
“Therefore” points us back to the previous chapter. Christians are exhorted to hold fast (3:6). Moreover, we are reminded that many Israelites did not enter into the rest offered them because of sin, disobedience and unbelief (3:7-19). Adam Clarke comments, “What the apostle had said before, relative to the rest, might be considered an allegory… Canaan was a type of grand privileges of the Gospel of Christ, and of the glorious eternity to which they lead” (Clarke Commentary).
Fear is advised. “Beware” was the earlier warning (3:12). The writer is cautioning that the Christian life is not to be taken lightly.
The words “seem to come short of it” in no way suggests that one only appears to come short, but does not actually come short. The original word can mean “be recognized as being something” (BDAG); “be accounted” (Thayer). The NIV reads, “be found to have fallen short of it.” It is possible to fall short (cf. (Hebrews 4:11).
“For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them, but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it” (Hebrews 4:2).
Good news was preached to them. However, the message did not profit those, who fell short, because it was not mixed with faith. Hearing alone will not produce the desired result (cf. Hebrews 11:7, 30; Matthew 7:24-27; James 1:22).
Good news has also been preached to us. Obedient faith is needed.
“So I swore in My wrath, ‘they shall not enter My rest’ although the works were finished from the foundation of the world” (Hebrews 4:3 cf. Psalm 95:11).
The point? God did His part. He created the land. It was waiting for them. However, they did not have the faith, which He required, to enter. “It was not because Jehovah’s plan was ill-prepared; not at all, His plan was finished when the creation events were concluded on the initial week of earth’s history” (Wayne Jackson, A New Testament Commentary).
The same is true today. If we do not enter, it is not because God does not have a land for us to enter. It will be because we did not supply the faith.
4. Good example, Bad example
“And God rested on the seventh day from all His works” (Hebrews 4:4 cf. Genesis 2:2).
God completed what He set out to do in creation. Tom Wacaster suggests, “When the Bible says that God ‘rested’ there is no indication that God was tired, or exhausted, from His labors. The connotation is that God enjoyed the fruit of His labor” (Wacaster, Studies in Hebrews).
“They shall not enter My rest” (Hebrews 4:5 cf. Psalm 95:11).
Many Israelites failed to complete what they set out to do. They failed to enter the land of promise. They were not able to enjoy the fruit of the completed work.
5. Some Enter
“Since therefore it remains that some must enter it…” (Hebrews 4:6). The literal language is, “since therefore it remains for some to enter into it.”
Some Israelites did enter the land of promise (cf. Numbers 14:30-31; Joshua 1-3). These found rest (Exodus 33:14; Deuteronomy 3:20 cf. Joshua 21:44; 22:4; 23:1).
Likewise, there remains a rest for God’s people. Some will enter this rest.
6. Another Rest
“Again, He designates a certain day, saying in David… ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts’” (Hebrews 4:7 cf. Psalm 95:7-8).
David, about five centuries after Moses, warned his generation not to repeat the mistakes of unbelieving Israel in Moses’ day. Instead, they (and subsequent generations) should “promptly enter God’s rest whenever invited to do so” (Robert Milligan, A Commentary on the Epistle of the Hebrews). David gave this warning by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. Hebrews 3:7-8).
Joshua did provide rest in the land of promise (cf. Joshua 21:44; 22;4; 23:1). However, there must be another rest, which Joshua did not provide. This may be inferred from David’s words.
Then, it is affirmed. “There remains a rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9). It is worth pointing out that the word translated “rest” here is different from that in previous verses. It is Sabbatismos. This word only appears here in the New Testament. The ASV translates it “a Sabbath rest.” Stan Crowley comments, “What is so distinctive about a ‘Sabbath rest’? The answer is found in the next verse. When one enters into the rest now under discussion, there is a complete cessation of work, just as God completely stopped His creative work on the Seventh day” (ed. Devin Dean, Studies in Hebrews, The Gospel Journal Commentary Series).
A word of clarification. The KJV reads, “Jesus” instead of “Joshua.” “Jesus” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew “Joshua.” While the record is in Greek, the context is clear that this is speaking of Joshua, the Old Testament character.
7. A Rest Like God’s
“For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did His” (Hebrews 4:10).
God completed what He set out to do in creation. He ceased from this work. However, the fruit of His labor continues, not only in this age, but also in the age to come.
Let’s finish our work on earth, and enter into a rest like His. Revelation 14:13 declares, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord… they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” Charles H. Gabriel penned these words in a song “When all my labor and trials are o’er, And I am safe on that beautiful shore, Just to be near the dear Lord I adore, Will through the ages be glory for Me” (Song: Oh, That Will Be Glory by Charles H. Gabriel).
The land that we seek is better than what Joshua brought them. The ancestors of Israel, we are told, “desired a better, that is, a heavenly country” (Hebrews 11:16 cf. 11:9-10).