The author of Hebrews wrote to encourage his audience in Christ lest they falter from their faith. The heroes of Israel were examples of faithfulness despite greater opposition than what the audience of Hebrews or Jesus endured (Heb 11:1-12:2). The author of Hebrews encouraged his audience to look out for one another (Heb 3:12-14; 10:19-25; 12:14-17) that they might endure the persecution that had come upon them (Heb 10:32-34). Israel’s failure to enter God’s rest provided an example of what the author of Hebrews wanted his audience to avoid. He surveyed the storyline of the Old Testament from Genesis-Psalms to remind his audience of their special place in God’s plan of redemption, in Christ.
(1) In Heb 3:5, the author noted Moses’ faithfulness to God in the old covenant. When Moses led Israel out of Egypt with signs and wonders, the Lord confirmed Moses as the leader of Israel. After Israel crossed the Red Sea on dry ground and Pharaoh’s army drowned in the returning waters, the Israelites feared the Lord and believed in Him and His servant Moses (Exod 14:31). When Miriam and Aaron rebelled against Moses, the Lord spoke to them in a pillar of cloud at the entrance of the tabernacle and reaffirmed that Moses was His special servant, the one with whom He spoke directly (Num 12:7-8). In Deut 18:15, Moses told Israel that one day the Lord would raise up a prophet like him and they should listen to the one the Lord would send them. The author of Hebrews affirmed that Moses was faithful as a servant in God’s household but said that Christ was faithful as the Son over God’s household (Heb 3:6a). The author identified believers as those belonging to Christ’s household provided that they would confidently maintain their hope in Him unto the end (Heb 3:6b).
(2) In Heb 3:8-11, 13, 15; 4:3, 7, the author quoted from Psalm 95 to warn his audience concerning the dangers of apostasy. David wrote Psalm 95 to exhort Israel to worship the Lord faithfully—lest they resemble the wilderness generation that failed to persevere in faith and were prevented from entering the Promised Land. David noted that as early as Exodus 17, just after the exodus, the wilderness generation complained against God for lack of water. And they complained when the spies sent to scout out Canaan returned with an unfaithful report about the prospects of taking the land (Numbers 12-14). Because of the latter failure, David noted, the Lord forbade Israel from entering His rest in the Promised Land. In applying Psalm 95 to his audience, the author of Hebrews said, “Watch out, brothers, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that departs from the living God” (Heb 3:12). To accomplish this, the believers—companions of the Messiah (Heb 3:14)—needed to encourage each other daily and be reminded that none of the rebellious in the wilderness generation survived (Heb 3:16-19).
(3) In Heb 4:4, the author quoted Gen 2:2 as the basis of his observation that a Sabbath rest remained for those in the household of Christ. Though the wilderness generation failed to enter God’s rest, that did not mean that the promise of entering God’s rest was nullified. The author of Hebrews noted that after completing His work of creation, God rested (Gen 2:2). God instituted the Sabbath as a day in which Israel could experience His rest every week (Exod 16:23; 20:8-11; Exod 35:1-3; Deut 5:12-15) and promised to drive out Israel’s enemies in Canaan so that the Promised Land could be a place of rest for His people (Exod 33:14; Josh 21:43-45). The author of Hebrews observed that: (a) since the promise of a Sabbath rest with God had never been repealed, and (b) the wilderness generation did not enter that rest even under Joshua’s leadership—verified by David’s statement in Ps 95:11 that Israel did not enter God’s rest in the Promised Land (Heb 3:11; 4:3, 5), then (c) a promised Sabbath rest was available perpetually and eternally for his audience as they obeyed Christ. The author urged his readers to labor that they might enter God’s rest (Heb 4:11) because, “the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart” (Heb 4:12). Since God’s rest could be found in Christ, the High Priest of the new covenant, the author urged his readers, saying, “Let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time” (Heb 4:16).