Saturday, January 27, 2018

4. Concentrated Hebrews (Hebrews 3:1-4:13)

So far in this series:

I. Sermon Introduction (1:1-2:18)
     A. Exordium (1:1-4)
     B. Celebration of the Enthroned Son (1:5-14)
     C. Background of Salvation (2:1-18)
II. The Argument (3:1-10:18)
     A. Enter into God's Rest (3:1-4:13)

1. A Greater Than Moses (3:1-6)
  • 3:1. I would say that the argument of Hebrews proper begins here. The author will interrupt it once and twice before he gets going full steam, but the thread of the priestly argument starts here.
  • Jesus is called "apostle" and "high priest" of our confession. Scholars debate whether a specific confession is in mind (e.g., "Jesus is the Son of God" or "Jesus is Lord").
  • 3:2. God "made" Jesus, often translated as "appointed."
  • The angels mediated the first covenant to Moses, and Hebrews 1 has declared Jesus greater than they. Now we get to Moses, the mediator of the old covenant par excellence. And we will see again that Jesus is greater than he.
  • 3:3-6 Hebrews makes a word play on the word house. The primary meaning is "household." Moses was a servant in God's household (Num. 12:7). But Jesus was a Son. The Son in a household is more worthy than the servant.
  • 3:4. God is the one who built everything. Interesting tension here with 1:2 and 1:10 (cf. also 2:10). I have wondered if this tension suggests that the image of Christ as agent of creation is a metonymy--Christ is God's wisdom, which God used to create the world. 
  • 3:5. Moses the servant gave witness to "the things going to be spoken." The things going to be spoken were spoken through Jesus (cf. 2:3).
  • 3:6. We are God's household if we hold fast our confidence in what we are hoping for. Hebrews knows nothing of an eternal security. Only those who persist to the end will be part of the kingdom.
2. Hear His Voice Today (3:7-4:11)
     a. Don't Harden Hearts (3:7-19)
  • Mentioning Moses raises the question of the wilderness generation. Israel left Egypt, but almost none of them reached the Promised Land of Canaan. The author uses this as a parable for the journey of the audience. They have left Egypt. But they will not make it to the unshakeable kingdom (12:28) unless they persist to the end.
  • 3:14. Two verses highlight the conditional nature of their belonging to God's household and their participation in Christ. We have already seen one--3:6. The other is 3:14: "We have become and remain partakers of the Christ if indeed we hold fast the beginning of substance firm until the end." The perfect tense suggests that while they fully became partakers at some point in the past (completed action), that completed result only continues as long as they persist in faith. If they fall away like the wilderness generation, then they cease to be partakers of the Christ.
  • 3:7. "as the Holy Spirit says." Hebrews sees Scripture as the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit. This is not a past word but a living word directly to the audience today ("says").
  • 3:7-11. This is a quote of Psalm 95:7-11. The psalm is of course a call to ancient Israel to persist in faith and not be like the wilderness generation before them. Hebrews appropriately reapplies it to his audience as well.
  • 3:12. The problem of the wilderness generation was "an evil heart of unbelief." A lack of faith, in other words--a lack of faith that did not move forward to the Promised Land. The audience is also tempted not to continue through with what may lie ahead. Jesus is a sympathetic priest as he was tempted not to go forward with the crucifixion.
  • The author implies that the audience may be tempted to "turn away from the living God." Such a worry would especially be appropriate if they were Gentiles who had at one point worshiped dead idols. Jews would not see themselves turning away from the God of Israel.
  • The audience is asked to encourage each other to continue in the wilderness every day that is called "today," which is every day. The opposite course is to be hardened in the deceitfulness of sin. When we think of enjoying the "pleasures of sin for a time" (11:25), such sin could involve the pleasure of not being persecuted.
  • 3:16. Here is the point. All this wilderness generation left Egypt under Moses. The parallel is that the audience had started in faith with Jesus. They had been enlightened (6:4). They have partaken of the Holy Spirit. They were children of God and had a birthright (12:16). They had appropriated the sacrifice of Christ for sins (10:26).
  • In other words, the audience were truly Christians. The fact that they had partaken of Holy Spirit (like Jesus partaking of blood and flesh in 2:14) shows they were true believers. As Paul says, they had passed through the Red Sea--through the waters of baptism (1 Cor. 10:2). The similarity between Hebrews 3 and 1 Corinthians 10 suggests to me that the author knew this text or had heard Paul or a Pauline someone make this argument.
  • 3:17-18. But their "corpses fell in the desert." They did not make it to the Promised Land. Indeed, God swore they never would. It seems beyond question that the author is saying you can truly be a Christian and still not make it to heaven and the kingdom of God.
  • 3:19. The reason was unbelief. It was their lack of faith. They did not persist to the end.
     b. Be Diligent to Enter (4:1-10)
  • 4:1. These verses give the second half of the argument. The "therefore" implies that what follows is a logical consequence of what has preceded. The audience should not be like the wilderness generation. They should enter God's rest.
  • 4:2. The author hopes for a contrast in what happens to the audience. The wilderness generation did not have faith. Hopefully, they will.
  • 4:3. We who believe enter into God's rest, into Canaan.
  • 4:4 The author now makes a catchword argument (gezera shewa) to explain what God's rest is. Psalm 95 says that the wilderness generation would not enter God's rest. This leads the author to ask, "What is the rest of God?" His mind turns to Genesis 2:2, when God rests from creation.
  • 4:9. The conclusion of this train of thought will come later. When we enter the rest of God, we are entering a sabbath rest. In the imagery I lean toward this being final, eschatological rest.
  • 4:6-7. The author now plays on the timeline of the psalm. Joshua did finally lead God's people into Canaan land. But the psalmist wrote after that. So if the psalmist holds out the promise of God's rest after Joshua, there must be another rest available, the one available to the audience. 
  • 4:9-10. A sabbath-rest, a final rest remains for God's people. To enter God's rest is to stop working as God did on the seventh day. It would be easy to take this in a very Reformation way--now rely on faith rather than works. But this reading does not seem to fit Hebrews. It seems anachronistic. Even Paul does not say to stop "works." Works are never seen as bad or something to stop in Paul's writings.
  • So perhaps Hebrews is speaking of the eschaton, when we have finally finished our race (12:2) and can stop the effort that is required by faithfulness.  
3. The Living Word (4:11-13)
  • 4:11. These verses then conclude the section. We must be diligent to enter God's final rest. We enter it every day that is called "today," and we strive to enter it once and for all in the eschaton.
  • The audience does not want to fall by the same example of disbelief as the wilderness generation. The word example here (hypodeigma) is the same one used in 8:5. It seems to have the sense of a biblical precedent here, an example (or perhaps even a type) in the biblical text that points forward to something in the life of the audience or a deeper truth.
  • 4:12-13. These verses are about the logos, the "word of God." It would again be anachronistic to take this in reference to the Bible, although theologically the Bible does contain the central words of God. There is also no clear indication that the author has Jesus in mind as the Word of God. The background here seems more in keeping with the book of Wisdom and Philo.
  • The word of God in Jewish speculation was the tool of God's creation and of God enacting his will in the world. In Genesis 1, God speaks and it happens. John 1 of course gives us the clearest application of logos background to Christ. In Greek Stoicism, the logos was connected to the Mind that orders all things in the universe, and in Jewish Middle Platonism, that logos became associated with God.
  • So the word of God enacts God's will in the world, and 4:12 seems to focus on God's will in judgment. The mention of a sword reminds us of Wisdom 18:15-16 talks about God's word leaping from heaven with a sword in judgment of the Egyptians. So the word of God in judgment of the world is living and active and has a sword that gets to the bottom of things.
  • 4:12. The word can tell the difference between soul and spirit. Are these separable? For Philo the spirit was the "soul's soul" and thus part of the soul. It can separate the thoughts and intents of the heart. God knows our true intentions and motives.
  • 4:13. The judgment dimension of these verses is clear both from the context, which is about enduring to the end or facing judgment. But this verse also makes it clear. We are entirely known and exposed before God. We cannot hide our hearts. Is there an allusion to the Garden of Eden?
  • "His word is for us." Difficult clause to translate. Some render it, "to whom we must give an account." My sense is that it is still talking about God's will in action. God's will faces us and will act on us.

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

A lot of bones (and meat).