Commentary on Heb 4:1-5, 11
We read today of the “rest” which only God can give.
The symbol of “rest” is seen now at a deeper dimension. The promise given to the Israelites is a foreshadowing of that given to Christians and it is “good news”. Because the Promised Land was seen as the place of rest that God provided for his people, it was a share in his own rest, which he enjoyed after he had finished his creative work (Gen 2:2). The author now relates this meaning of God’s rest to Ps 95, which we read yesterday.
The reading begins with the advice that, while the opportunity to avail of God’s “rest” is present, the ‘Hebrews’ should avail of it. The implication is that the Israelites in the desert had failed to use the opportunity when they had it. (See yesterday’s reading.)
So the comparison now is between the Israelites and the Christians. The Israelites, who doubted the word of God, did not enter a place of rest which, for them, was the Promised Land. But God’s promise cannot remain unfulfilled, so it now applies to Christians, invited to enter into a very different Promised Land of unalterable and unending happiness, of which the original Promised Land was only a type.
If we are to enjoy the “rest” that God wishes us to have we must open our hearts to God’s call and God’s message. The “good news” (euangelion, ‘euaggelion, evangelium) has been coming to us just as it has been coming to God’s people for generations. In the past, however, many did not benefit because, as we saw in yesterday’s reading, they had closed their ears to the message.
However, those who really put their trust in the message – in both their hearts and in their way of life – will enter that “rest”. Unlike those others of whom God said “in his anger, ‘They shall not enter my rest'”. The author now extends the limited meaning of “rest” in the Psalm to the “rest” that Genesis speaks of God enjoying at the end of the six days of Creation. And that “rest” has been a reality ever since. And we need to remember that it is God’s “rest” we are speaking about and not ours.
It is for the ‘Hebrews’ then, while they have the opportunity, “to enter that rest” and not find it closed off because of their refusal to believe – that is, to believe fully in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
Our goal in life, too, is to experience that “eternal place of rest” face to face with our loving God. And the warning in this reading is totally appropriate for us too. If we want to experience that future “rest”, we need to be always united with our God in the Now. He is to be found nowhere else.
There may be some kind of message here, too, for the way we spend our days and times of rest, especially our Sundays. Are they really days of “rest”? Do we spend the time in ways that are creative and nurturing for both spirit and body?