William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;Hebrews Chapter 3
Hebrews 3 follows 1 and 2 in beautiful order. For "the Apostle and High Priest of our confession" answers to the chapters before: the first of these titles of Christ being specially connected with His being Son of God, as the second is with that of Son of man. He comes from God to man on earth; He goes from man to God in heaven. And this is largely, though not entirely, the reason why the writer was led not to speak of himself as an apostle. He had it as his task to present Christ as the Apostle. This might have been enough for one whose reverence was guided unerringly by the Holy Spirit. We can understand why he forebore to speak of himself or any other when so speaking of Him; even if there had not been the gracious reason of not so introducing himself beyond his allotted sphere of the uncircumcision. And we may notice the further and not unimportant or uninteresting fact that, in writing to the Hebrew believers, he is exercising the function of a teacher rather than of an apostle, however truly he was this. He is unfolding the treasures of the O.T. in the light of Christ, of His blood, and His presence in heaven most particularly. And thus we are indebted to the exceptional circumstances in which the Epistle was written that it is the richest specimen of inspired teaching in the Bible, more than any other affording and applying the key of Christ's work and position and offices, and grace and glory in all; to unlock what had otherwise been to us hard and obscure. What an incentive and aid to encourage us to follow in the same path in our poor measure, by His grace who so enabled him! Were all the commentaries that are extant on the O.T. to be effaced, is it too much to say that it would be a real gain if the Lord's servants betook themselves afresh to its study with a believing use of this single Epistle to the Hebrews? Certain it is that few have adequately profited by it, because they have so much tradition to unlearn; and that the mass even of saints are so steeped in preconceived ideas that the simple yet profound truth it presents is foreclosed and escapes them.
Christ's apostleship leads to the comparison with Moses, as His high priesthood with that of Aaron, the main topic in a large part of the treatise.
"Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus; faithful as he is to him that appointed him, as also [was] Moses, in all his house. For he hath been accounted worthy of more glory than Moses, by so much as he that built the house hath more honour than it. For every house is builded by some one; but he that built all things [is] God. And Moses indeed [was] faithful in all his house as a servant, for a testimony of those things afterward to be spoken; but Christ as Son over his house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the boldness and the glorying of the hope firm to the end" (verses 1-6).
There is emphasis, of course, in the unusual combination, "holy brethren." Since the Jews as such were accustomed to be called "brethren" after the flesh, there was the more propriety in designating Christian Jews "holy brethren," however truly it applies to any Christian.
Again, as the chosen nation was partaker of an earthly position and hope, we can understand well the force of describing the believers in Christ from its midst as "partakers of a heavenly calling." Such indeed they were. They entered the new privilege not by a tie of birth but by call of God; and this, as it was from Christ in heaven, so it was to heavenly glory, bearing earthly rejection, suffering and shame, as the Epistle shows from first to last. The calling upward or high calling of Php 3:14 answers to it.
Truly we must distinguish the heavenly calling from the calling in Ephesians 4:1, developed in that Epistle which is still more intimate and precious. For it is bound up with the mystery concerning Christ and concerning the church. Accordingly we do not hear of the oneness of the body with its Head in the Epistle to the Hebrews, as we do not hear of Christ the High Priest in that to the Ephesians. Even when church is spoken of in our Epistle (Hebrews 12:23), it is regarded in its individual components, not in its unity: so distinct is the design of each. Hence we are not viewed here as quickened with Christ, raised up together with Him and seated together in Him in heavenly places, but as represented by Him in heaven, where He appears for us and gives us while here below access into the holies.
Christ is shown to surpass Moses and Aaron next, as we have already seen the angels left behind in Heb. 1, 2. The contrast with Moses is traced in Heb. 3. That with Aaron begins in the latter part of Heb. 4. But it is well also to notice "our confession." It leaves room for such as turn out mere professors; for it is not even said "our faith," though this might soon become a lifeless creed. And this is borne out by the solemn warnings not to neglect, to hold fast, and the like, which abound throughout our Epistle, as we find similarly in the First Epistle to the Corinthians and in that to the Colossians.
It will be noticed that the name of "Jesus" stands here in its simple majesty. For a Jewish Christian it was all-important. Every Jew owned the Messiah or Christ. The Christian Jews confessed Him already come in Jesus. And the aim of this Epistle is to open even from the ancient oracles the varied glories that centre in Him with all the store of blessing for those that are His.
Nor is it only that Jesus "was" faithful, though this is true. But "is" goes farther as the more general and absolute term. Only it seems strange that reverent minds should venture to apply to Him ποιή, in the sense, so liable to misconstruction and error, of making or creating Him, when the context clearly points to constituting Him officially.
If Moses was a messenger of God singularly honoured as all confess, he was after all in an inferior position, however faithful in all the house of God. But Jesus was not only a Man approved of God among the Jews beyond all by miracles and wonders and signs in their midst, not only anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power, going about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil, unequalled in word and deed yet withal the lowliest in obedience and love and holiness; but "He hath been accounted worthy of more glory than Moses, by so much as He that built the house hath more honour than it" i.e. the house. And in this case the reason has no limit. "For every house is builded by some one; but he that built all things [is] God." The allusion is evident to the argument and the proofs of Heb. 1. Jesus, whatever office He may fill, is God. He sheds glory on the position He takes, though assuredly the way in which He administers each office redounds to the glory of Him that appointed Him.
It is interesting to see that the axiom of the fourth verse is the morally irresistible argument from design, which has been more or less ably applied by those who have written on the evidence of creation to its Creator. Prof. M. Stuart labours in vain over this verse, and gives up its relevance in the context as hopelessly obscure. But as in Heb. 1 and 2 we have seen the universe in relation to Christ, so it is here. God formed it all, but Christ created it as the divine person active in the work, for He is God no less than the Father, and set over the house not as servant like Moses but as Son, and this in the closer sense of the house wherein He dwells, besides the broader one of the universe which He established. The Jews were apt to confine their regards to His choice of themselves. God does not forget, nor would He have us to forget, Christ's supremacy as Heir of all things.
But there is a truth also of the deepest interest to believers. The house or dwelling-place depends on redemption. Whatever might be the ultimate end of God in what He made, sin came in at once through the creature's lack of dependence. God could only dwell on the ground of redemption. Hence it is that in Genesis we have no dwelling of God here below. He might visit Adam, or yet more and more touchingly Abraham; but even with Abraham He does not dwell. In Exodus God has His dwelling in the midst of a poor unworthy and failing people; but it is solely in virtue of redemption. No doubt it was only partial and provisional, alike the redemption and the dwelling of God, each the type of that which is perfect and everlasting. And the wonderful fact in Christianity is that both are now verified by the coming and work of our Lord Jesus. No redemption will ever surpass or even equal what is already. With (or by) His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained everlasting redemption. Hence, as Ephesians teaches, we are builded together for God's habitation in Spirit. The Holy Ghost sent down from heaven makes it good. What an incomparable privilege is God's dwelling, and Christ's body, as the same chapter had shown, to say nothing now of the many and yet fuller testimonies! Redemption of the body and of the inheritance will be more evident., but the redemption of our souls now, while only in Christ before God, which is attested and enjoyed in the Holy Spirit's power, bringing the deepest knowledge of and communion with God for heaven.
Here, however, it is first the general truth of the universe as God's house, with which we do well to compare Revelation 21:3. It is in the eternal scene fully that this will be vindicated and manifested. Our Epistle does not here develop that perfect rest of God, but pursues its present aim of comparing the great chief of the legal economy with the still greater One Whom the Jews had crucified by the hands of lawless Gentiles. "And Moses indeed was faithful in all his house as an attendant for a testimony of thinks afterward to be spoken; but Christ as Son over His house, whose house are we" - we emphatically, as the Epistle never confounds the "sanctified" with mere Jews or all mankind. It states carefully those that are set apart by the Sanctifier, even Jesus, the test of God for man. Moses never rose above a servant, nor is the creature in any case, were he Gabriel in heaven or yet Michael the archangel. Jesus is the Son, the eternal Word, the Only-Begotten who is (not was merely, but is) in the bosom of the Father from everlasting to everlasting. In His case therefore it was not merely for a testimony of what should be spoken. His was and is glory intrinsic and personal. He was the Faithful Witness, as in all things He has the pre-eminence; and so He is here and now spoken of as Son over His house, the house of God, as it ought not to be doubted. There is no sufficient ground for "His own" house as in the A.V. It is the house of God throughout, even though its present application is immensely and necessarily modified by redemption in Christ. Hence His confessors really constitute this house, with the implication in the serious words that follow, "if we hold fast the boldness and the boast of the hope firm to the end."
The Spirit of God foresaw the danger of those addressed. Freshness of enjoyment is apt to pass, and souls are thereby exposed, under trying circumstances, to turn toward what was left behind when grace and truth wrought in power. The course of time, with distractions within (for so it will be till Christ come, in presence of an enemy who hates all that is of Him) and with attractions for the flesh without, tests souls. It is well when we hold fast firm to the end the boldness and the glorying which the hope forms and entitles us to. But it may be very different even with real children of God; and it will assuredly prove those that are unreal. For the same things which injure those born of God are the ruin of those who have not life in Christ. Hence the grave caution here enjoined, peculiarly needed by those addressed, and in no small measure by those drawn to the Lord's name out of a professing mass, when clouds gather, difficulties increase, and desertions are frequent.
Is it not an extraordinary deduction from verse 6, that the Christian is in danger from confidence in his soul, and from the boast which glory before us inspires? Yet such is the perversion that prevails among those who shrink from enjoying the revealed riches of God's grace in Christ. It is plain and sure that the Holy Spirit here takes for granted that the Christian has the confidence to which Christ and His redemption entitle every simple-hearted believer, and that the glory of God we hope for is a happy and settled boast. Those who think otherwise have been defrauded of their proper portion by ignorant, perhaps false, guides. The real danger against which the Hebrew confessors are warned is giving up that confidence and boast. They are urged to hold it fast. This is the reverse of cautioning them against such confidence. The Christian dishonours the Lord by not cherishing true confidence and abounding hope; and yet more by giving them up, through difficulties or trials, when once possessed. This is the dangerous unbelief against which they are admonished.
It is clearly not our standing which is in question; for this being wholly of God and in Christ is settled and sure and unchanging. There is no "if" either as to Christ's work or as to glad tidings of God's grace. All there is unconditional grace to faith. The wilderness journey is before us, flowing very simply from the allusion to Moses. And this is followed up with evident suitability in the quotation from Psalm 95. Here it is that "if" has its necessary place, because it is our walk through the desert, where there are so many occasions of failure, and we need constant dependence on God.
"Wherefore even as the Holy Spirit saith, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation in the day of temptation in the wilderness, where your fathers tempted [me] * by proof and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was displeased with this * generation, and said, They always err in their heart, and they ignored my ways: as I swore in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest. See, brethren, lest there be in any one of you a wicked heart of unbelief in falling away from a living God; but exhort yourselves each day while it is called today lest any of you be hardened by deceitfulness of sin" (verses 7-13).
*Text. Rec. follows the later copies, as they with the Septuagint add me and read ἐäïêίìáóάí ìå. The more ancient give the text adopted in this version. A similar remark applies to "this" rather than "that" as in the common text.
Now Psalm 95 is in its open force a final call from the Spirit of Christ to Israel in view of the great morrow when the kingdom is introduced for the earth in the power and glory of Messiah's presence. They are therefore to hear His voice "today" (verse 7). Hence it is truly applicable since the apostles called souls to believe the gospel in view of Christ's appearing. But nowhere is it more apt than as here urged on the Hebrews.
To hear His voice is the characteristic of Christ's sheep. So the rejected Son of God puts it Himself in John 10:3-4; Joh 10:16; Joh 10:27: compare John 5:24. On this depend the most blessed issues; as the rejection of His voice is to lie down in sorrow, the prey of a mightier rebel than man. It is the work of the Spirit to give one hitherto deaf to hear Him, according to His will who spoke on "the holy mount" (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35). It is life, eternal life.
Alas! it was easy to hear with the outward ear only, and to harden the heart, even as Stephen warned. "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye" (Acts 7:51). Sin is in the measure of truth heard and despised; and what testimony can God present to those who refused the voice of Christ not only humbled but glorified, who died for sinners? The very blessedness of the gospel, "so great salvation," marks the desperateness of the need, and the imminence of the danger.
So, but not at all to the same degree, it was with Israel of old "in the provocation, in the day of the temptation in the wilderness" (verse 8). The allusion is to Meribah and Massah which the Septuagint thus translates. Compare Psalm 95:8: The Septuagint, however, in Exodus 17:7, gives not "provocation" as in the Psalms, but "reviling" as in verse 2 also. Elsewhere Meribah is rendered ἀíôéëïãία, contradiction. Massah is uniformly translated πειρασμόò, temptation, and this against God as the strife or reviling was against Moses more immediately. Tempting Jehovah in the desert was saying, Is Jehovah among us or not? This may seem to unbelievers a small offence; in the eyes of God and of faith it is heinous. Had He not broken the pride and power of Egypt on behalf of His poor unworthy people? Had He not brought them out of the house of bondage. triumphantly, their Guide and their Rearguard, to dwell among them and be their God?
"For ask now of the days that are past which were before thee" (says Moses to Israel, Deut. 4), "since the day that God created man upon the earth and from the one end of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live? Or hath God essayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation by temptation, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm, and by great terrors according to all Jehovah your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?" And was He less toward them all the wilderness journey in daily manna and rock-flowing water, in sheltering care and guiding mercy, notwithstanding their too constant murmuring and waywardness, their disobedience and stubborn rebellion every now and then? Righteousness indeed there was in Him, and holy abhorrence of evil; but O what unwearied compassion and unfailing goodness! Truly they tempted by putting Him to the proof in the midst of unceasing tokens of His faithful presence. It was bad for heathen blinded by lusts and Satan's power to say, because of the chastisements of Israel's sins, Where is their God? How much worse for themselves to ask, Is Jehovah among us or not? And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust. . . . How often did they rebel against Him in the wilderness and grieve Him in the desert! And they turned again, and tempted God and provoked (or limited) the Holy One of Israel (Psalm 78:18; Psa 78:41-42). The least that became such a people before such a God was to judge self and go forward in the assurance of His gracious power. But not so did Israel, though they "saw His works forty years" (verse 9).
"Wherefore I was displeased with this generation, and said, They always err in their hearts, and they ignored my ways" (verse 10). It was just because He is just and true that God felt so deeply the refractory and deceitful rising up of Israel against His will. Their error lay not in their understanding but in their heart: hence they never got to learn God's ways but ignored them. Moses truly feared and loved Him: thus only are His ways discovered and delighted in. as it is written in another psalm (103), "He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel." Above His palpable doings they did not discern. "As I sware in my wrath if they shall enter into my rest" (i.e. they shall not). A solemn sentence of exclusion. In man's mouth it is elliptical, God do so to me and more, if - ! In God's lips the condition of man's entering is the moral certainty that it is all over with him. Good is only and wholly of grace. There is no entrance into the rest of God, if it depend on man's deserts. If they shall enter means for unbelievers, that they shall not enter.
It may be well here to say that God's rest is for us future and in glory. We lose the force of the teaching in these two chapters, especially Heb. 4 in which it is so conspicuous, if we conceive it to be anything given to us on our first believing in Jesus, or found experimentally in submitting to His easy yoke and light burden. Both of these are real and important now, as we know from Matthew 11:28-30. But the rest of God is when work is over and burden is no more; when the enemy deceives not and creation no longer groans, when judgment is executed on earth and righteousness reigns, and Jehovah alone is exalted in that day, Heaven and earth shall be united in a chain of descending goodness and universal blessing, when Christ is no longer hid in God, and His sons are revealed for the deliverance which the long enthralled creation awaits. Till that day God works, because there is still unremoved sin and misery; and we work in the communion of His love. When it comes, we shall be in the rest of God.
"See, brethren, lest there be in any one of you a wicked heart of unbelief in falling away from a living God; but exhort yourselves each day while it is called today, lest any one of you be hardened by deceitfulness of sin" (verses 12, 13).
Here the root of the mischief is touched. It is "unbelief." This hindered Israel of old from setting their hope in God (Psalm 78:7). This exposed them to forget His works and to break His commandments, neither the heart prepared aright nor the spirit stedfast with God. It is impossible that He should lie or be not faithful, yea gracious. Faith is invited and may be bold to rest on Him confidently, now especially that He has raised Christ from the dead and given Him glory, that our faith and hope might be in God. None, however, were so liable to stop short and ask for signs as the Jews, accustomed as they were to a religious system of rite, ceremony, and symbolism. As Christendom has largely fallen back from faith into a resumption of these rudiments of the world, which the work and glory of Christ now condemn as weak and "beggarly elements" (Gal. 4). there is like danger of unbelief. It is in truth departure from a living God for forms which He used to do service before Christ came and died atoningly, when redemption from under the law was effected, and the believer passed from bond-service into the status of a son and heir of God, receiving the Spirit of adoption so as to cry Abba, Father. Anything short of this is not Christian relationship; and it is in evident contrast with Jewish subjection to ordinances, to which the Catholic bodies (not Romanist only) have turned back again. It is a deceptive form of unbelief, a going away from the living God to dead forms, because the heart lacks confidence in His grace in Christ.
So it was with Israel; so it is with Christendom. No wonder that it is denounced as "a wicked heart" of unbelief. For what else is or can be distrust of such a God? The more His love is revealed, the more is the heart convicted of wickedness that refuses to receive His grace, or (worse still) gives it up. Nothing more false than to regard faith as a mere process of the mind, involving nothing moral, but on the deep principle of subjection to God's word. To believe, to bow to Christ Whom God has sent, is the first and most imperative of calls. What obligation to compare with being at the feet of the Son of God, Who became incarnate to suffer for my sins? God too was glorified in Him and His cross, as in nought else. Hence the Father's glory raised Him from the dead, that believing in Him I should know myself and all who have been brought nigh to God. Is it not a wicked heart of unbelief that neglects so great salvation? It is this even in a worse degree, after confessing Him, to depart from a living God thus proved for any other object: for here only is He known truly by a sinner and best honoured. For us love, service, worship, and all that is good follow faith and cannot exist without it.
Hence the call to encourage, not exactly one another, though this is included, but "yourselves," which seems rather more pointed than the former phrase. They were to encourage each other day by day as long as it is called today (the day of grace), that none should be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. For which of us knows not by humbling and bitter experience its luring character and slippery paths? A little evil allowed is the beginning of very great evil. The heart is hardened as we look off from Jesus, and self-pleasing takes the place of doing God's will; and only mercy's intervention hinders the end from being, according to the way. Truly sin is deceitful.
It is the wilderness which is ever before us in this Epistle; not Canaan, the type of the heavenly places, which is the ground of the Epistle to the Ephesians. It is here therefore the scene of trial and danger through unbelief, with the fleshly and worldly lusts to which it exposes. Hence here too the early exhortations are interspersed with doctrine. Further, as in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, profession has prominence. For though reality is assumed, room is left for those whose minds only accepted the truth which their lips confessed, but they were not born of God, and hence fell away through fear, external attractions, revival of their religious habits, or other causes of a natural kind. For this reason we have responsibility urged with grave warnings, and as the Gentile saints are so dealt with in Corinth, so here are the Hebrews that bore the name of the Lord Jesus. Therefore, as has been often remarked, the "ifs" which so abound in this context as elsewhere. Faith profits by the admonitions which flesh takes lightly to its fall in the desert. Where the tie of life and love was never formed between Christ and the soul, the need of grace and mercy is not felt; glory on high, fades into nothingness, as the earth rises before the heart as a place of present enjoyment in desire, if not effectively.
"For we have become companions of Christ, if indeed we hold fast the beginning of the assurance until the end while it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For who on hearing did provoke? Nay, did not all that came out of Egypt through Moses? And with whom was he displeased forty years? And to whom swore He that they should not enter into His rest but to the disobedient? And we see that they could not enter in on account of unbelief" (verses 14-19).
The word often translated is the same as is quoted from the Greek version of Psalm 45 in Hebrews 1:9. "Companion" would be more modern English, but the same rendering is kept up here as in the Psalm to which the allusion is made. "Partakers" not only breaks the thread of connection, but suggests what might easily mislead. There is no lowering of Christ's glory in applying the word to those who confess Him. For when first used, the Holy Spirit carefully recalls how God owns Messiah as God, and even when grace adds companions of His people, He is anointed as man above them all. He that sanctifies and they that are sanctified are all of one, and to be manifested in the same heavenly glory. But some who seem to begin well stop short or turn aside. It was faith of mere mind and feeling, not the Holy Spirit's living work in the conscience; and such in the strain of trial, or weary of habitual self-judgment, or turning again to the mirth and pleasant enjoyments of the world, abandon first the path and then the word and the name of Christ. The dangers of the Hebrew confessors found its parallel in their fathers' snares during the journeyings of the wilderness, and we now in Christendom are exposed to like danger. The possession of the heavenly privileges is evidenced and conditioned by holding stedfast to the end the beginning of the assurance of the Christian.
How then say some who assume to teach that it is presumption to have any such "assurance"? For the assurance here insisted on as proper, incumbent, and necessary from first to last is grounded on the glorified Lord Jesus, our propitiation and our high, priest, on the divine dignity of His person and the accepted efficacy of His work for us, leading, as He undertook, many sons to glory. One can hardly therefore find doctrine more opposed to the gospel than a preliminary denial of that assurance which every Christian is solemnly exhorted, not merely to have but to hold fast, yea firm to the end. If assurance be founded on anything in ourselves, the sooner the better to abandon what was really self-righteous and unbecoming and spurious. The confidence which dispenses with continued dependence on God is worthless and a delusion of the enemy. But if we rest on Him by faith, we are bound to have and cherish by faith what is only His due. And it may be that the Hellenistic sense of "confidence," while certain from the usage of Polybius (4: 54, 10; 5: 16, 4; 6: 55, 2; Diod. Sic., etc.), as cited in modern commentaries, flows from its primitive meaning of subsistence, substance, and the like. Compare Hebrews 4:3; Hebrews 11:1. It points strongly to an objective base in the Christ, instead of a mere sentiment in the soul which might easily change and fade away. But the Spirit, where there is life, keeps believers true to the Lord.
Doubtless "today" is a serious and trying time (verse 15). We are in the wilderness, and without God what is there but difficulty and danger for His people, weak as spilt water in themselves? But there especially He speaks in His word; and even when the kingdom comes, the prophetic word calls His own to hear His voice. If they were bitterly provoking, He was patient and gracious. And if there be difference now, as there is assuredly, since Christ accomplished redemption, and took His seat at God's right hand, and sent down the Holy Spirit to be in us who believe, it is still said, "Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts as in the provocation." What He has done and revealed and made ours, so transcending all wrought of old in Egypt and the desert, ought to be the most powerful stimulus, as well as firm foundation, in heeding His revealed will against our treacherous hearts, so sure to grow hard if we slight His word or tamper with sin. "Today" is till Jesus comes, the point so constant in N.T. expectation. Is He your expectation, my brother?
"For who on hearing did provoke? Nay, did not all who came out of Egypt through Moses?" (verse 16).
The A.V. followed the indefinite pronoun, not the interrogative as is here preferred with the R.V. Thus the appeal has all force. It was not "some" only but the mass, as is put immediately afterwards, a shameful answer to Jehovah's favour toward Israel. And it is of painful interest to observe how the Spirit employs the same scenes with yet more detail in 1 Cor. 10 to warn the Gentile faithful at Corinth, as here for the Jewish. What made the case so grave is that it was after they heard they fell into the provocation. So sin is worse far in a baptised man than in a mere Jew or Gentile; and the idolatry of Mary or Peter or an angel worse in the sight of God than that of Zeus or Venus. "All that came out of Egypt by Moses!" O what power, judicial and delivering, had they not witnessed! What continual goodness and withal solemn dealings with rebellion and profanity! The Christian profession is admonished to beware of similar departure. "And with whom was He displeased forty years? Was it not with those that sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?" (verse 17.) It was no mere sudden slip, but the grave evil of habitual state that aroused His strong displeasure; alas! the whole period of His unparalleled intervention in the wilderness, where their stay gave occasion to His constant and wondrous tokens of mercy before all eyes. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, or walk in obedience, holiness, and love. Without it there is but sin continually; as they sinned, and their carcases fell. For God is not mocked, nor His righteous government which was then visibly displayed.
"And to whom swore he that they should not enter into his rest, but to the disobedient?" (verse 18.) Disobedience, and above all disobedience such as this, God abhors and judges. It is not meant in isolated acts, but insubjection to Himself; just the opposite of what Rom. 1 calls the obedience of faith, now especially as He has in grace revealed Himself in the lord Jesus. It is yet deeper than obedience to His commands, however important this may be in its place, and the proof not only of love but of divinely characterised faith, and therefore of life in Christ Such as are insubmissive to Himself, especially now that the Son has declared Him, shall assuredly not enter into the rest of God, the heavenly glory at Christ's coming. So He swore then; as His wrath is now revealed from heaven against all such ungodliness, even if after a sort they hold the truth ever so fast in unrighteousness.
The next verse closes this portion with a word on the root of the evil thus disclosed. "And we see that they could not enter in on account of unbelief" (verse 19). Their having disobeyed God in the sense of hearkening not to His word, and thus of insubjection to Himself, pointed to their inward unbelief. Present, palpable, visible things were their all. God was in none of their thoughts really; for it is no question of idle dreamy sentiment but of spiritual life. How could unbelief or those marked by it enter His blessed glorious rest?
Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.
For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.
For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God.
And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after;
But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.
Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice,
Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.
Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.
So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)
Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;
While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.
For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses.
But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?
And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?
So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.