Thursday, February 22, 2007

God’s Rest in Hebrews

By the end of Chapter 3, Paul has brought up the Exodus, wilderness wanderings and inheritance of the promised land as a "rest" that was denied to some because of their disbelief. He continues this in the beginning of chapter 4 and by the end of chapter 4 has specified this rest for us as a spiritual (yet very real) one:

16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Paul also stacked this section of Hebrews with several "For"s and "Therefore"s. This is an indication that his point through this section is being made through a progrssive flow of thought that contains sets of quasi-parenthetical statements. It doesn't mean much until one analyzes each comment syllogistically and recognizes it as a premesis for an argument that is either the conclusion of a previous argument or if Paul assumes it is a foregone conclusion with his Hebrew readers. Keeping this in mind, I won't go into every statement, but I have a few select observations.

It would seem that to enter into God's rest is our reward for having been obeidient. In verse 11, Paul indicates that we are to "be diligent to enter that rest". It would seem that we must make some effort. However, entering into God's rest is not the goal. The goal is " so that no one will fall" and they fell "through following the same example of disobedience" as the Hebrews during the exodus. If "diligence" means obedience, then what purpose does the "rest" serve and why write this verse? Paul could have only written "be obedient" and it would have meant the same thing. The "example of disobedience" is "unbelief" (3:19). But it appears as though belief is what causes people to enter the "rest" (4:3). Understand that the premises for the conclusion in 3:11 is a principled link between the keeping of the Sabbath and God's resting on the seventh day after creation (3:10), and the effectiveness of revelation (3:12).

To answer this, observe the pattern in both premises. In verse 10, Paul seems to make a distinction between a child of God "entering His rest" and having "rested from his works, as God did from His." In verse 11, Paul indicates that the living aspect of the revelation of Christ is contingent on its ability to distinguish between soul (psuch) and spirit (pneumato), joints and marrow, and thoughts and intentions. A minor debate exists between dichotomists and trichotomists. The debate is silly. It's like debating whether the Bible is one book, two books, or sixty-six books (as far as Protestants are concerned). Dichotomists claim no distinction between soul and spirit where trichotomists do. Paul clearly makes a distinction here whether that distinction is carried over into other passages that also discuss soul and spirit. This is an open reference to something that Paul’s Hebrew audience would have understood. It’s the same two words used in Jude 19:

“These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded (psucikoi), devoid of the Spirit. (pneuma)

The concept is that people possess a mind like an animal, a “soul”. However, People also possess a capacity to be receptive to God, transcendent, and yet foundational to, mere existence: spirit. In Jude, the “Spirit” is apparently a reference to God’s Spirit. However, other beings can possess a spiritual nature and human beings among them.

As part of the context of Hebrews 4, this reference to the division of soul and spirit indicates that the word (“logos”, a philosophical term used to refer to Christ in John 1, here used to refer to His revelation to us: the scriptures) of God is able to help us judge, or discern, the difference between our animal thoughts and our spiritual intentions. With regard to the difference between “diligence” and “obedience”, “entering rest” and “resting”, I believe the distinction is the same. We enter rest through diligent spiritual intention (justification) so that through our rest, we may bring our animal minds under obedient subjection to God.

This coming Sunday evening, we’re having a special night of music. I’ve been asked to offer a song and God has led me to pull out an old, but little-known favorite of mine that I arranged for my use (I don’t have the music anymore and can’t seem to find the author). The text is a paraphrase of the words of Christ from Matthew 11:28-30

Come to me all who labor and are heavily laden down,
And I’ll give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me now
For I’m gentle and low in heart,
Here you’ll find rest
You’ll find rest for your weary soul
For my yoke is easy
And my burden’s light
Come to me

This adds an emotional impact to this teaching. Understanding the condescension of Christ, we know that He has been tempted as we are tempted. Even the strongest Christian recognizes his or her need. As sinners we are broken by the conviction of the Holy Spirit and are quickened. As such our intention becomes inclined toward God and we enter into His rest where obedience becomes a matter of great joy.

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