Hebrews 4 was my scheduled New Testament reading for today, a chapter that focuses on entering God’s rest. Rest is a treasured truth for me right now, as I deal with a painful mouth ulcer that is not healing as I’ve hoped it will. I need to experience God’s rest, so that I don’t end up trying to handle this problem in my own strength.
Remember, biblical chapter numbers were not in the original text. So when a chapter begins with the word “Therefore” you need to look back to the previous chapter to see what it was “there-for.”
Context is another important key to understanding the meaning of a passage. The following verses will make more sense if before reading them you read Hebrews 3:7-19 and Hebrews 4.
These verses help us understand God’s Rest:
“And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.”
“Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.”
“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” Hebrews 3:18-19; 4:1-2; 9-11 ESV
“Therefore” in Hebrews 4:1 refers back to the text on entering rest in Hebrews 3:7-19. I thought verses 18-19 summed up the message of the entire section. To enter God’s rest, faith is the key. But unbelief and disobedience are closely connected. Disobedience is the Greek word apeitheia, which literally means “the condition of being unpersuadable.”
To be unpersuadable is to obstinately reject the will of God. This is caused by unbelief, and the effect of unbelief is disobedience. Therefore, because of this cause and effect relationship, stubbornly being unpersuadable is the root of both of these decisions. I hope you will read the following affirmation aloud, as an expression of your submission to the will of God for your life.
When God speaks, I will not stubbornly refuse to be persuaded of His message. I will respond with both faith and obedience. When I do this, God has promised I will by faith enter His Sabbath rest, resting from my own works and resting in the Lord Jesus Christ. In this way, I will be led and empowered to accomplish God’s will for my life.
Early in July, on the day before I was scheduled to go in for an MRI on my left knee, I heard the still, small voice of God speak a very clear message to my heart. Since the pain in that knee had gone from very mild to extremely severe overnight over a month before, I was ready for some answers. But what I heard wasn’t exactly what I was asking for in prayer. Instead, the Lord clearly spoke two verses of Scripture to my heart, with the strong impression that I was going to need to hold onto these to make it through the following months in victory. I immediately opened the Bible Memory app I use as a part of my daily quiet time, entered these two verses, and began memorizing them.
The first verse was Deuteronomy 31:8, which says (in NIV84, the version I frequently use when memorizing Scripture), “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
The second verse was today’s I Am Not Alone verse, Exodus 33:14. In the same version, it reads “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Since that day, though God has given me several other verses that have been helpful during this time of dealing with multiple health issues, these two verses have been the ones that I’ve returned to over and over and over again. So on Wednesday morning, when I looked on our list of verses for the I Am Not Alone Bible Reading Plan to find today’s verse, I didn’t need to stop first to look up the verse in my Bible. After reviewing this verse nearly daily since July 8th, I immediately recognized the Exodus 33:14 reference. “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Now, let’s dig a little deeper into the meaning of today’s verse. It contains two promises from God, first to the children of Israel to whom it was originally addressed, but as we’ll see later, also promises God has given us.
First, it says, “My presence will go with you.”
The children of Israel were on a journey. God had delivered them from bondage and oppression in Egypt, He had gone with them through a wilderness experience characterized by disobedience, dangers and drought, and now it was time for the final stage of the journey to begin, actually entering Canaan, the land of milk and honey God had promised His people.
But as Exodus 33 begins, God is not exactly happy with His people. Read these words God spoke to Moses at the beginning of this chapter.
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Exodus 33:1-3 ESV
So what happened between verse 3 and verse 14, today’s key verse? Moses interceded before God for the stiff-necked people he had been called to lead. A part of Moses’ prayer is recorded in verses 12-13.
“See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”
Basically, Moses was apprehensive about taking on the responsibility of leading God’s people into the promised land without God’s help, and he appealed to the mercy of God. He told Almighty God, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.” And today’s verse is God’s response. Moses’ prayer of intercession changed God’s mind.
As God’s people under the New Covenant, He has made the same promise to us, as the verses we have been studying this month have confirmed over and over again.
The second promise of today’s verse: “And I will give you rest.”
First, what exactly does the word “rest” mean as it is used in the Bible. There are several words both in the Old and New Testament, but for today I’m going to stick to the three that most directly apply to us.
The Hebrew word used in the Exodus 33, “nawach,” means “to rest, settle down and remain; to repose, have rest, be quiet.”
When Christ taught on entering rest, He used the Greek word “anapauō” which refers not to a “rest from work” but rather to a “rest in work.” Christ’s rest is not the rest of inactivity, but rather the inner rest of living in harmony with God.
But the word used in the Hebrews passage I’ll refer to later “katapausis” more closely parallels the Hebrew word used in Exodus 33 and includes the idea of “to cease, refresh, bequiet.”
God’s presence and His rest are inseparably joined in today’s verse. But there is also something required of us to enter God’s rest. Let’s look in the book of Hebrews for a clearer understanding of the process of entering God’s rest.
For the children of Israel, this was a promise of rest from the toils and dangers of the wilderness wanderings as they entered their promised land. Unfortunately, Hebrews 3:18-19 explains that they failed to enter His rest for two closely tied reasons, disobedience and unbelief.
The good news is that the account in Hebrews concerning entering God’s rest doesn’t end with these words. Hebrews 4 begins with a promise that the possibility of entering God’s rest still stands. These verses also include a warning for us, a reminder that entering God’s rest has the same two requirements for us that it had for Israel, faith which is demonstrated through obedience.
If it’s your desire to enter God’s rest in the midst of the sufferings and conflicts that are a part of life on this earth, take time today to open your Bible and read Hebrews 4:1-13. Remember, rest is found in God’s presence, but it also requires something from us.
As you read these verses, thank God for the gift of rest that He is offering you today, but also take some time to pray and ask God to show you if there is anything in your life that needs to be dealt with so that you can enter His rest. Any unbelief? Any disobedience to something He has clearly instructed you to do in His Word? God’s rest is one of the richest gifts He has offered His children. As Hebrews 4:11 (NLT) says, “So let us do our best to enter that rest.”
On this Thankful Thursday, let’s thank God for this gift of His rest and do our best to enter that rest.