There is something strikingly topical about this part of the study because we shall be thinking about Joshua, the man who, when the Israelites entered the land of Canaan for the first time, captured the city of Jericho from the Canaanites.
In 1994, on the 4th of May, Israel surrendered the city of Jericho to the descendants of the Canaanites. Anyone who is honestly interested in knowing whether the Bible is true or not needs only to look at the continuing drama of Israel and the Arabs.
But our study concerns something even more important than the modern struggle for the Promised Land. We have seen that the writer of the letter to the Hebrews has stated that the Lord Jesus is:
1. Greater than the prophets.
2. Greater than the angels.
3. Greater than Moses.
4. And, now in Hebrews 4, Greater than Joshua.
We have moved on to the time when, under the leadership of Joshua, the Israelites entered the Promised Land. In this connection, the opening words of the Book of Joshua are so important that they should not be overlooked, Joshua 1:1-2.
Here you see how the Scriptures establish the connection between Moses and Joshua. Here also, we see continuity.
It was once said that “God buries His workmen, but His work goes on”. Moses, the servant, appointed by God who rendered important, faithful, voluntary, but temporary service, had finished his work, but the purpose of God must continue to go forward.
Joshua was the man to whom God gave the responsibility of leading the people into the Promised Land. Something that must be understood at the beginning of this study is that Joshua was not a replacement for Moses.
Before considering how he fulfilled the task assigned to him by God, let me comment on the relationship of Joshua to Moses.
Sometimes it is said that Joshua was Moses’ successor. That is not true. The only sense in which it may be said to be true is that Joshua succeeded him in time. He came after Moses, but he did not succeed him in office. I.e. he did not take over the position, or role of Moses.
Deuteronomy 18:18 tells us that God said to Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth and he shall speak to them all that I command him”.
The One who was ‘a prophet like unto Moses’, in fulfilment of this prophecy, was Jesus Himself, as the New Testament makes clear on at least two occasions. Peter, in Acts 3:22 and Stephen, in Acts 7:37.
The Jewish people themselves certainly did not believe that Joshua was the one who fulfilled the promise, because when they came to John the baptizer they asked him, “Are you that prophet?” John 1:21
So far as they were concerned, the prophecy relating to ‘the prophet like Moses’ had not yet been fulfilled, and John himself denied that he fulfilled it. So, we must be careful not to teach that Joshua took over the position of Moses.
Having said this, we must also be careful not to underestimate the importance of the work which Joshua did or the role he played in God’s plan. And this, I believe is something that very often happens and it happens very easily because he was a man who lived much of his life in the shadow of the great Moses.
Moses was such a towering personality that anyone who came immediately after him would seem small by comparison.
Incidentally, I must say that I find it rather strange that this chapter is the only chapter in the New Testament, where we find the name of Joshua. I would have expected to find him mentioned in that great 11th chapter of Hebrews where the ‘heroes of faith’ are enrolled.
But he is only referred to by inference in verse 30, whilst some other lesser-known people are mentioned by name, e.g., Jephthah, Barak. Gideon.
However, in the life story of Moses, there is a sad chapter of personal failure, for which he paid very dearly, and it was because of this failure that he was not allowed to lead the people into the Promised Land.
He was allowed to see the land from the Eastern side of the Dead Sea, from the Hills of Moab, now in the State of Jordan. But not allowed to enter, or to lead the people into the land, Numbers 20:8-12. That had to be done by someone else and that someone was Joshua.
After looking out over the land towards which he had to lead the people, Moses died, and we read the touching words, “And he (God) buried him in the valley, in the Land of Moab; but no man knows the place of his buried to this day”. Deuteronomy 34:5-6
But, how much is generally known about Joshua? I think that the answer to that question would be, ‘very little!’
1. He was the servant of Moses. Numbers 11:28.
2. He was one of the only two spies who brought back a good report when sent to spy out the land. Numbers 14:6-10.
3. He led the people into Canaan. Joshua 1.
4. He won a great victory at Jericho and defeated some other cities. Joshua 6:1-27.
5. And, we might add to the list something that is usually forgotten, but which is surely significant. When Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God, Joshua went with him, at least part of the way. Exodus 24:13.
That was a great honour when you remember that Aaron who had been appointed spokesman for Moses when Moses went to speak with Pharaoh, was left below with the people, and God called for Joshua to accompany Moses.
1. He was born in Egypt, (a slave) towards the end of the Egyptian bondage and just about the time that Moses was making up his mind to renounce his position as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Remember that at this time, the Hebrews were undergoing great suffering at the hands of the Egyptians.
The favour they had been shown by the Hykson rulers in the days of Joseph was long past. The succeeding native Egyptian dynasty feared that the Israelites, who had multiplied greatly in numbers, might join forces with any invader who would come down from the North to the Nile Delta, ‘the Land of Goshen’, which Joseph’s Pharaoh had assigned to Jacob and his family. Exodus 1.
Slaving in the fields, building the store-cities of Pithum and Raamases and being beaten by the task-masters who were set over them, when Moses was born the Israelites had no reason to love the Egyptians. God actually told Moses, “I have seen the affliction of My People.” Exodus 3:7
And yet, remarkable enough, when this baby was born, his parents gave him the name ‘Osea’, which means “salvation”. So the parents of Joshua must have been very devout and faithful, and optimistic people.
2. It was in Egypt that the young man grew up, whilst Moses was undergoing his forty years of training and preparation, like a shepherd with the Midianites in the wilderness. Exodus 2:11-25. This means that when Moses eventually returned to Egypt to demand that Pharaoh should let the people leave, he, Moses, was 80 years old, and Osea was 40 years old. Exodus 4:18ff.
3. Osea, to use his first name, must have been a man of outstanding quality, because he became the personal servant and bodyguard of Moses, standing guard outside his tent, Exodus 33:11.
4. About two months after the exodus, Moses appointed him commander of the army, when he won a great victory over the Amalekites. Numbers 27:18-23. Moses later changed the young man’s name to “Jeoshua” by adding a letter (Y) from the name of God, (YHVH), giving his name the meaning, “Jehovah is salvation”. Numbers 13:16
About 1000 years later, in the days of the prophet Nehemiah, we find that the form of the name has become “Jeshua,” Nehemiah 8:17. And the name we use today is “Joshua” is the Greek form of that name.
This, then, is the man who is introduced in Hebrews 4. In this chapter, the writer points out that, although Joshua led the people into the Promised Land, he did not succeed in giving the people rest.
The word ‘rest’ ‘katapausis’ which he uses, means ‘to settle down’, and it means that Joshua did not succeed in settling the people in the land, that is, he did not bring them to a settled, stable condition. The word used is the word used to describe colonizing.
There is no doubt that Joshua was a tremendously effective leader and general. In the space of six years, he defeated 6 Canaanite tribes, and 31 Canaanite kings and their cities. But he did not give the people rest!
Even after the land had been divided up among the various tribes of Israel, the conquest of the land fell far short of what God had prepared for them.
The reason for this was that they were persistently disobedient, and their enjoyment of rest depended on their obedience to God. Because the people were disobedient, God did not remove all their enemies. He allowed some of them to remain in the land to be thorns in their sides, Joshua 23:12-13.
The book of Judges, records the whole sad story of that period, the book, the seventh in the Old Testament, records seven periods of servitude, when one or other of the tribes had to suffer oppression because of their disobedience. When Joshua died there was no one of his calibres to take control.
There followed years of lawlessness, and two times we are told that “Each man did that which was right in his own eyes”. Judges 16:6 / Judges 21:25. In a word, the history of Israel in the Promised Land, is the story of an incomplete conquest and imperfect rest.
This is what the Hebrews writer claims in this chapter. Hebrews 4:4 states that Joshua did not give them rest. This part of the letter is all about rest. The word occurs 10 times in 13 verses, and, the assertion made by the writer that what Joshua of old failed to do, our Joshua succeeds in doing.
Let me remind you that Joshua is the Old Testament form of the name Jesus. Joseph was told, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins”. Matthew 1:21
In this chapter, the claim is made that Jesus is superior to Joshua because Jesus really gives His people rest. Allow me to point out, very briefly, the series of assertions that we find in this chapter.
1. God had promised His people rest. The promise is in Deuteronomy 12:9. “When you go over the Jordan and live in the land which the Lord your God gives you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies round about…. ..so that you live in safety…..”
2. Joshua failed to give them rest.
Of all those whom Moses led out of Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb entered the land. The others died in the wilderness, because of disobedience. Deuteronomy 1:34-39 / Hebrews 4:6.
3. But, the promise of rest ‘remains’. Hebrews 4:1.
The word ‘apoleipo’ means ‘remains over from time past.’
4. The reason why the people did not enter the rest was;
a. Not because the promise failed.
b. Not because the promise was withdrawn.
c. And not because the rest was unavailable. Hebrews 4:3 states that God’s rest has existed from the time of creation, since the day when God finished the work of creation.
The fact is, God’s rest is a reality and He intends that someone should experience it, ‘It remains for some to enter it.’ Hebrews 4:6
5. Even Israel’s failure to enter the rest did not cancel or nullify the promise.
Because God is determined that some shall enter into His rest, He has ‘set another Day’. Hebrews 4:7. The word “set” is the word “horizo”, and it means, “To mark out”.
Read Psalm 95:7. And think of this, 500 years after the people entered the land of Canaan, God said, ‘today’.
Although the promised rest was not experienced under the leadership of Joshua, by the people for whom it was originally intended. That promise has neither been cancelled nor withdrawn. 500 years later, through the Psalmist, God draws attention to it.
This means that God’s rest is still on offer. ‘There remains a rest for the people of God’. Hebrews 4:6. And Hebrews 4:3 says, “We who have believed enter that rest.”
Why may we experience God’s rest? Because our Joshua did not fail!
Let me digress, for just a moment! Think about the three great blessings which were lost to mankind because of the sin of Adam. Already in this letter, the writer has mentioned two of them.
1. Man lost dominion. Genesis 2:8
He was given dominion over creation. He was not afraid of the animals. He actually named them!
2. Man lost life. He became subject to death because of disobedience. Genesis 2:17. The Hebrew text reads, ‘Dying thou shall die’.
Not only did man ‘die’ spiritually, because he lost his fellowship with God, the Source of Life, but the process of physical death began in his body and he became subject to two deaths.
3. Man lost the blessing of rest. Genesis 3:17. The tranquillity of a soul that is at peace with God.
You remember, that Adam’s responsibility for tending the garden was meant to be a pleasant activity. Work was not meant to be tedious. But, instead, it became toil.
You know what God said to him. “It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow, you will eat your food until you return to the ground since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust, you will return.” Genesis 3:18-19
But, through Jesus and the Gospel, it is God’s purpose that everything that Adam lost should be restored. Of course, we have not yet experienced these blessings to the full. Therefore, Hebrews 4:9 says, “There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God”.
Notice that, up to now, the word which the writer has used is the simple word, ‘rest’. That word is “katapausis”. But here it is changed. We have a different word, the word ‘sabbatismos’ which means, ‘Sabbath rest’.
And the only time you find the word is in the New Testament. This is the word that describes God’s rest, the rest about which we read in Genesis 2:2-3, tells us that when God finished His work of creation and ceased, he “rested from all His work”.
Why is this word different? It is different because it indicates endless, uninterrupted tranquillity.
There is ‘peace’ and there is the ‘peace of God’. There is ‘rest’ and there is the ‘rest of God’. This is the rest of salvation fully realised, fully experienced. Hence, God calls it ‘My rest’. Hebrews 4:3
Take your Bible and open it at Genesis l. Notice the last sentences in Genesis 1:5 / Genesis 1:8 / Genesis 1:13 / Genesis 1:19 / Genesis 1:23 / Genesis 1:33. Do you see anything significant? The first six days of creation are defined as length and duration. We read “And there was evening.., and there was morning…, one day”.
That is how it reads right through to and including the sixth day. I.e. Genesis 1:31. But! Nothing like that is said about the seventh day. Its duration, its length is not defined or limited. No “evening and morning”! Days one to six dawned and died! Day seven has no end!
When God ceased from the work of creation, it was perfect and He ceased from it permanently. It needed no modification, no alteration, and no improvement. He saw that it was ‘very good’. Genesis 1:31.
Hebrews 4:8 states; “He ceased from his labours”. This is the sabbatismos, the Sabbath, rest, God’s rest which Jesus has made possible for us.
How was Jesus able to do this? Hebrews 4:10 tells us that it is by His own victory. That verse becomes much easier to understand if I read it to you in the living New Testament.
Referring to God’s rest, the writer says, “Christ has already entered there. He is resting from HIS work just as GOD did, after the Creation”.
You may recall that at the beginning of this letter, Hebrews 1:3, the writer told us that, “after (Jesus) had, by the offering of Himself, purged our sins, He sat down”.
His work was finished, just as God’s work was finished after the creation. His redemptive service was completed and never to be repeated, so He “sat down”.
In the language of the Scriptures, “standing” is the symbol of activity, whilst sitting is the symbol of a finished work. Compare Hebrews 1:3 with Acts 7:26, and John 13:4 with Revelation 1:13.
Also, notice Him ‘girded’ as a slave. His garment was taken up and secured with the towel as a girdle when He became a servant. John 13:4. And, later in His glory, clothed down to the feet, when His work is finished. In Revelation 15:6, the girdle is now about His breast and no longer a linen towel, but is of gold! The symbol of royalty.
Hebrews 4:10 is referring to the finished, completed redemptive work of Christ. And His total victory has made victory possible for every one of us!
There are a great many restless, unhappy, unsatisfied and searching people out there in the world. The frantic search for ‘a good time’, as they call it, really means that they are restless. Christians enjoy rest now, but there is something even better still to come.
But, never forget the warning which follows.
1. Joshua is the one that led the Israelites into Canaan, ‘The Promised Land’ and Jesus will lead us into the ‘promised land’ of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of heaven.
2. Moses’ Law, called the Mosaic Law, could not lead the Israelites into the Promised Land but Joshua did. So also, Jesus the mediator of the Law covenant will lead Christians into Heaven.
3. Joshua was appointed or anointed by God to lead His people into God’s rest, so also according to Hebrews 4:8-10 identifies Jesus as a better Joshua, as Joshua led Israel into the rest of Canaan, but Jesus leads the people of God ‘into a place of rest’, salvation.
4. Joshua was bold in delivering the message of truth about what he saw as a spy, Numbers 14:6-10, so also Jesus was bold in delivering His message about the good things of the kingdom, even in face of the religious leaders of that time.
5. Joshua when about to die, gathered the people and told them to follow the way of God, Joshua 24. Jesus when about to die, gathered His disciples and laid down the way to follow God’s Way.
In chapter 3 the writer of Hebrews has warned the Christians not to give up on their confidence and to hold it firm to the end. The warning looks back to the nation of Israel which was freed from Egyptian slavery and passed through the Red Sea but perished in the wilderness because of unbelief. Christians must not fall back and succumb to unbelief. They missed God’s rest. The writer continues forward with his admonition.
The “therefore” connects us back to the previous point that the people of Israel were unable to enter the rest because of unbelief. But then we come across these shocking words, “while the promise of entering His rest still stands.”
We thought that we were talking about entering the promised land of Canaan.
But the writer of Hebrews clears this up now. Chapter 4 is the proof that the promise of entering the rest still stands. But before he explains how this could be, the writer continues with his warning.
“The promise of rest remains”. Therefore we must fear so that we do not fail to reach it. A couple of translations read “let us be careful.” This is an unjustified rendering and unfortunate, in my opinion. We need to fear God and not fall to unbelief so that we do not fail to reach the promised rest. Do not think that our situation is different from their situation. The good news came to them just like it came to us. But the message of that good news did not benefit them. Why did it not benefit them? It did not benefit them because they were not united with those who heard it in faith.
The people missed entering the rest because they were not joined with the same faith as Joshua and Caleb. They believed that God would provide for them. They believed that God would eliminate the obstacles to reaching the Promised Land. They put their full trust in God.
The people, however, did not have this faith. They complained in the desert. They did not believe God would provide. They saw the size of their enemies and wanted to go back to Egypt. They were not united with those who heard the good news in faith. Exodus 16:2-15
“But we who have believed will enter that rest”. The writer reminds the audience of the quotation from Psalm 95, which the writer dealt with extensively in Hebrews 3.
“It is for these”, that is those who have believed, that the rest was intended. That is why God said in His wrath that the generation in the wilderness would not enter the rest.
It is not that the rest was not available to the wilderness generation. The rest has been available since God finished all His works. The writer then quotes Genesis 2:2 in his typical fashion. The writer says, “He has somewhere spoken,” which continues to emphasize God as the author and not the human mouthpieces who said these words.
The writer quotes the solemn words of Psalm 95, “They shall not enter my rest” as a reminder that the rest has been available from the beginning, but they missed the rest because of disobedience and unbelief.
The rest remains for some to enter, but not everyone, because not everyone will choose to hear God’s voice. Those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience. But another day is appointed to receive the promise of entering the rest.
That day is called “today.” The promise for entering the rest is available today. The proof is the quotation from Psalm 95. David said in Psalm 95, “Today if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
But the “today” argument goes further. Since David said “today” the promise is still available, he said those words long after the wilderness generation failed to enter the rest. David did not say that the promised rest is past. He said today the promise still stands even after the wilderness generation.
“For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day”. Further, the writer continues the parallel to the wilderness generation. Joshua and Jesus are the same names. Jesus is the name in Greek, and Joshua is the same name but in Hebrew. So there is a wordplay being made.
The Old Testament “Jesus” that is, Joshua, led the people into the promised land of Canaan. Jesus leads the heirs of the new covenant into the heavenly promised rest. Joshua did not give them the final, promised rest, though they entered Canaan. Joshua led the people to a temporary rest, but Jesus will lead us to true, spiritual rest. Thus, a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God.
The promise of the rest is available today. But we will enter God’s rest when we have rested from our own works. Therefore, we are not at rest now. We have obtained the promise of the rest and we work so that we do not fall short as they did before entering the rest.
“Therefore, we must give greater effort to enter the rest”. We do not want to fail by the same example and pattern of disobedience that we see with the wilderness generation. We do not want to copy those who missed the rest. We do not want to make the same mistakes. How can we enter the rest? How can we ensure that we do not copy those whose bodies fell in the wilderness? Hebrews 4:12 is the answer.
We need the power of God’s Word. The Word of God is what we need to be using to make sure that we do not fall into the same pattern of disobedience. There are some interesting pictures concerning God’s powerful word.
1. God’s word is living and active.
The Word of God is alive and brings life to those who listen and obey those words. God’s word is not like reading a novel. There is power in God’s words because the words are from God’s mouth. The words can change your life to enter the rest God has promised. Nothing else you read can bring life to your soul.
2. God’s word is sharper than the sharpest sword.
The Word of God is intended to cut. The Word of God is not a butter knife intending to butter your roll and make you feel better. God’s word is supposed to cut. If it is not cutting, then it is not being used properly. God’s word convicts us.
3. God’s word penetrates.
It pierces the soul and spirit. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. The Word of God is not supposed to cut superficially. God’s word is supposed to cut us to the core. As the Scripture says of the Pentecost audience, they were cut to the heart. Acts 2:37.
That is what the Word of God is supposed to do. The Word of God is often not used this way. The word is supposed to step on our toes and crush them. Why? Not because we come to services to feel bad about ourselves, but to cut and penetrate. The Word of God needs to penetrate so that we do not miss the promised rest as Israel did.
4. God’s word exposes.
Nothing is hidden from God’s sight. The Word of God cannot be avoided. It ignites our guilty conscience and presses us to act. Don’t think that God does not see our disobedience and will not keep us out of rest. Therefore, we must make every effort to enter by using the Word of God, so it can cut our spirits so that we can purge our sins and unbelief.
The writer declares that Jesus is our great High Priest. Now the writer has not really proved that Jesus is our High Priest up to this point. The writer asserted that Jesus became human so that He could become a merciful and faithful High Priest, Hebrews 2:17.
In this section of Scripture, the writer is going to prove that Jesus is capable of being our great High Priest. In doing so, we are going to learn what makes Jesus great. We are going to learn what is so great about Jesus being our High Priest.
First, Jesus is a great High Priest because He has passed through the heavens. These seem to conjure a strange image to some. But this is not talking about Jesus flying through the sky. Rather, we learn that Jesus is operating as High Priest in the heavenly realms, not on earth.
Jesus is great because he is serving as High Priest in God’s house in the heavenly realms, not on earth in a physical temple. The writer will have more to say about this later in the book.
Second, Jesus is a great High Priest because He is the Son of God. He is not a mere person. He is someone who carries great authority and honour. He is the all-important, divine Son of God.
Third, Jesus is a great High Priest because He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. He knows what we are going through. He was tested in every way as we are. He knows what temptations are for, after all, He was exposed to the onslaught of Satan. Matthew 4:1-11.
He knows what it is like to endure great trials. His difficulties were so great that His sweat poured down from His head like blood from the intensity of His emotional pain. Luke 22:44.
Fourth, Jesus is a great High Priest because, in the face of all of the adversity and all of the temptations that came His way, He still remained without sin. Though He faced everything that we face, He is able to be a great High Priest because He did not sin. More will be said about this later by the writer.
Because Jesus is our great High Priest, the writer wants us to do two things:
1. Hold fast to the confession. As I pointed out at the beginning of this series, this point about holding fast to our confession is the key theme of the book. We have already seen the writer drive this point home several times, Hebrews 2:3 / Hebrews 3:6 / Hebrews 3:14 / Hebrews 4:1.
We have a great High Priest so do not give up. Do not let go of the faithful confession you made at the beginning of your walk with God. Do not throw it away now.
2. Ability to approach the throne of grace. The second thing we can do because Jesus is our great High Priest is approach the throne of grace with boldness. The image reveals a personal relationship that we have with the Father because Jesus has made atonement giving us access to the Father.
It seems there is an implied contrast to the Mosaic system where no one was allowed to enter the tabernacle. No one had access to the Father. Therefore the bells on the hem of the high priest’s garment would indicate to the people where the priest was in the tabernacle as he performed sacrifices on behalf of the people. Exodus 28:31-35.
The people could not enter and seek restitution and forgiveness themselves. Therefore, these words are powerful and precious that we are able to approach the throne of grace.
Not only can we approach the throne of grace, but we can approach it with confidence. There is no need to enter with fear or timidity. As children of the Father and brothers and sisters with Christ, we can enter with confidence, not with fear, that we will receive grace and help in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:13 told us that we are naked and exposed in the sight of God. He sees us for the awful sinners that we truly are. However, as we approach the throne, we do not find wrath but mercy and grace to help us in our time of need, even in our sinfulness.
We do not need earthly priests anymore. We have full access to God the Father.