No wonder then that chapter 4 opens with the words, "Let us
therefore fear." This does not for one moment mean that we should
always be filled with slavish dread, always doubting whether, enduring
to the end, we shall be saved. It does mean that we should accept the
warning which Israel's history affords, that we should remember the
deceitfulness of sin and the weakness of our own hearts, and have a
wholesome fear of in any way following in their steps.
The beginning of the second verse might more accurately be
translated, "For indeed we have had glad tidings presented to us, even
as they also." It is not "the gospel" as though both Israel
of old and ourselves today had had exactly the same message presented
to us. The glad tidings of deliverance from Egypt and entrance into
Canaan was preached to them: the glad tidings of deliverance from sin
and entrance into heavenly blessing has been preached to us. But in
both cases the word preached does not profit apart from its being
received in faith. The gospel is wonderful medicine for the broken
heart, but it comes to us in a bottle bearing these directions-To be
mixed with faith in those that hear. If those directions be not
observed no cure is effected, and the rest of God is not reached.
The believer, and the believer only, enters into the rest of
God. This is true whether we think of the typical rest of God in
Canaan, which only Caleb and Joshua entered, or whether of the true
rest of God which will be reached in a future day; and this is the
simple meaning of the opening words of the third verse. The point is
not that we, believers, are now entering into rest, are now in the
enjoyment of peace with God-though that of course is delightfully true,
and emphasized elsewhere in Scripture- but that it is believers, always
and only believers, who enter into the rest of God; that rest which was
purposed from the time of creation, but which has yet to be realized.
Verses 4 to 9 are occupied with an argument designed to prove
that in no sense had the promise of God's rest been realized in
connection with Israel's entrance into Canaan under Joshua. (The Jesus
of verse 8 means Joshua, as the margin of a reference Bible. shows).
This argument was necessary for Hebrew readers since they might readily
have taken it for granted that everything in connection with the rest
had been realized in connection with their forefathers and that there
was nothing more to come.
The argument might be summarized as follows:-
1. There is to be a rest, as indicated when God ceased from His works at creation.
2. Israel did not enter into the rest under Joshua, as proved
by the fact that God had said, "If they shall enter into My rest"
(which is a Hebrew idiom meaning, "They shall not enter");
and also by the fact that so long after Joshua as the time of David an
offer was again made then; as to entering. Such an offer would not have
been made subsequently, if all had been settled under Joshua.
3. But God's promise is not going to fail of its effect;
consequently a rest for the people of God-i.e., for believers-is still
The word used for "rest" in verse 9 means "a keeping of a
sabbath." This connects the thought with what we have earlier in the
chapter as to God's rest in creation, and also with what we have in
verse 10. We shall only enter into the rest of God when our days of
work and labour here are over for ever.
The early part of chapter 4 has established the fact that
God's rest lies at the end of the believer's pathway. At the present
time we are in the position of pilgrims on our way to that rest, just
as formerly Israel were pilgrims on their way to the land of promise.
When the rest is reached we shall cease our working, but on the way
there we should "labour" or rather "be diligent" to enter in, taking
warning by the fate which of old overtook so many unbelieving
The latter part of the chapter sets before us three great
sources of help and guidance which are available for us on our pilgrim
way. They are first, the word of God; second, the priesthood of Christ;
third, the throne of grace.
The features of the Word of God are brought before us in verses 12 and 13. It is quick (i.e., living) and powerful. Like
all living things it possesses amazing energy. Further it has
extraordinary powers of penetration, for it can pierce its way between
things most intimately connected-whether in things spiritual or things
material-in a way impossible to the sharpest two-edged sword. Again, it
is a discerner of the deepest thoughts and motives of men.
It is a remarkable fact that the word translated discerner is the one from which we get our word critic. Multitudes
there are today who pose as critics of the Word of God, and their
foolish criticism only betrays the fact that far from being living they
are in spiritual death; that far from being powerful they are very
weak, and that their supposed powers of penetration are practically
non-existent. They have no real understanding of the Word which they
criticise, and the phantom "authors" and "editors" etc., which they
conjure up are the result, not of their powers of penetration but of a very undiscerning and disorderly imagination.
It is not man's business to criticise the Word of God, but to
let the Word criticise him. Nothing tests us more than criticism. If we
are proud and self-sufficient we bitterly resent it. Only if humble and
walking in the fear of the Lord do we welcome the penetrating
criticisms of the Word, and they are of the greatest possible help to
us in pursuing our pilgrim way. Thereby we are enabled to see ourselves
and scrutinize our own motives, and thus avoid a thousand snares.
The Word of God reaches us in the Holy Scriptures. Should
someone ask us why we accept the Bible as the Word of God, we might
well reply: Is not that word, which lives and is powerful, which
penetrates and discerns the hidden and secret things, the Word of God?
It is indeed. Is not the Bible marked by exactly those features?
Without any question it is. Then what further need of proof have we,
that the Bible is the Word of God?
Notice too how almost insensibly we pass from the Word of God
in verse 12 to God Himself in verse 13. All is manifest in HIS sight.
It is an all-seeing God with whom we have to do.
If the Word of God has full play in our understandings and
consciences we shall become very conscious of our own insufficiency,
and our weakness in the pilgrim way. How delightful then to turn to the
second thing brought before us here-the priesthood of Christ.
In verse 14 we have the greatness of our High Priest
emphasized, both as to His position and His Person. He has passed into
(or, more accurately, through) the heavens. He did not stop in the
first heaven nor in the second heaven when on His upward way, but into
the third and highest heaven He went. Indeed, as another Scripture puts
it, He "ascended up far above all heavens" (Eph. 4: 10). Still, the
position of our High Priest is expressed here in this way so that
Jewish readers might be reminded of Aaron going into the holiest of
all. In the tabernacle the court, in which stood the altar of burnt
sacrifice, was typical of the first heaven. The holy place typified the
second heaven, and the holiest the third heaven in which God dwells. In
entering the holiest Aaron passed through the heavens as far as the
type was concerned. Our blessed Saviour and High Priest has passed
through the heavens, not in type but in glorious reality. He is now in
a place of infinite greatness and glory.
As to His Person our great High Priest is no less than the Son
of God. This great fact settles everything in the most decisive way.
There is no room for failure here. A mere man like Aaron might fail. He
did as a matter of fact fail immediately, and the whole system of
things which depended upon him failed likewise. Our High Priest will
never fail, and all that hangs upon Him will stand for ever. We shall
certainly "hold fast our profession" if we really believe this.
Then in verse 15 the graciousness of our High Priest is set
before us. Having become truly Man, He passed through all human
experiences and temptations, apart from sin. The rendering of our
Authorized Version, "without sin." might mislead us by making us think
it merely means that He went through all temptations without sinning.
It means more than this. He faced all human temptations "apart from
sin." He was perfectly and intrinsically holy. "In Him is no sin" (1
John 3: 5), and hence temptations proceeding from the flesh within were
necessarily unknown to Him. He had no flesh within. "Every man is
tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed" (Jas. 1:
14). But this could not be said of Him.
Hence while He is said to be touched with the feeling of our
infirmities, He is not said to be touched with the feeling of our sins.
Infirmities are not sins but rather those weaknesses which are
connected with human condition. In us they may of course lead to sin;
in fact they will almost inevitably do so except we seek and obtain
help from on high-the help of which verse 16 speaks.
But do not let us leave verse 15 until we have extracted
therefrom the sweetness contained in two words. First, that word
touched. A man of power and wealth may hand out much help and succour
to needy folk, and yet never have time nor inclination to so enter into
their sorrowful experiences as to have his heart really touched by
them. We in our weakness and need may look to our High Priest in His
glory and be sure that His heart is touched on our behalf. Then again
that word, feeling. The wealthy man of many charities might go as far
as being touched with the knowledge of the needs of the people he
helps, but if he has no experimental understanding of their infirmities
and struggles he cannot be touched with the feeling of their needs. Now
the Lord Jesus has so qualified Himself by all He has passed through
that He actually feels. He entered so truly into human life and human
conditions, apart from sin, that He now knows from the human standpoint
what He always knew from the divine standpoint. He possessed Himself of
human feelings about human needs and human sorrows, and though now
glorified on high He is still Man in heaven with all the feelings of a
Man on behalf of men.
Oh, then, let us come boldly to the throne of grace! That
throne is the third of the great helps which our chapter mentions. It
is a "throne of grace" because graced by our great High Priest being
seated there. Thence is dispensed mercy and grace for seasonable or
opportune help, only we must come to the throne in order that we may
What Israelite of old dared approach with any boldness the
awful throne of the Almighty God? What Israelite indeed dared approach
at all? When Ezekiel saw it in vision there was "the likeness as the
appearance of a man above upon it" (Ezek. 1: 26), yet he had no
boldness but rather fell upon his face. At the best his vision only
pointed on to that which was to be realized in our day. Thank God it is
now realized, but do we realize it? The Son of God sits on the throne,
but it is the Son of God in true and tender and sympathetic Manhood.
Realizing this all fear vanishes and we draw near with boldness.
The whole period of our lives down here is the time of need to
us, and coming boldly all opportune mercy and grace is ours. We have
but to approach in prayer and supplication. It is guaranteed to us by
the character of the One to whom we come-His greatness on the one hand
and His grace on the other. How rarely do we find these two things
united amongst men. Here, for instance, is a very great man, with much
power and ability to help others. But he cannot afford to adopt a very
kindly attitude and make himself easily accessible lest he be
overwhelmed by applicants. So he hedges himself about with secretaries
and porters and other officials. He could do much for you if only you
could approach him, but you cannot get at him. Here is another, and a
kindlier, more accessible, more sympathetic person it would be
impossible to imagine, but when you get at him he has no power to do
anything for you. Thus it generally is amongst men; but thus it is not with our Lord. Both power and grace are combined in Him.