Hebrews 3

Overview

  • The author says:
  • So, my family members – brothers and sisters – we who are heaven-bound, keep 100% focused on Jesus who is God’s #1 ambassador and the best spiritual leader ever, for all time.
  • Jesus is committed to doing God’s will among his family – his tribe, just like Moses was committed to doing God’s will with all the tribes of Israel back in the day.
  •  In fact Jesus is greater than Moses, because as the founder of God’s house (i.e. his people) he is greater than any one of its members (i.e. Moses).
  • God is the one who builds everything, right? So he’s in charge.
  • You should remember that one time when Moses’ leadership was questioned by his own family (Aaron and Miriam – Moses’ brother and sister) and God responded by saying, “My (God’s) family is Israel and I put Moses in charge because he is a faithful servant. “
  • Well, Jesus is even more faithful and he’s in charge over Moses because he’s the Son of God, not just a servant. Jesus is directly related to God, not just working for him.
  • So we should take courage and display confidence and faith because we are part of God’s family through Jesus. We can have hope because we’re in the right place under the right leader.
  • Remember what the Holy Spirit says: “If you can hear God’s voice today, don’t ignore it, like your ancestors did during their rebellious years in the dessert after the exodus.
  • “That generation literally took up residence in a place called “Testing” and “Trying” because even after 40 years of helping them, saving them, caring for them, all they did was complain and doubt.
  • “That’s why God was so angry with them he said, ‘They don’t get it. They love their complaining more than me. I swear I won’t let them get to the end of the journey and enter the Promise Land. No restful reward for you!'”
  • So, my family, my brothers and sisters, don’t be like your forefathers (and mothers). Make sure your heart is always pointed towards God–the one who gives life–not away from him.
  • Encourage each other everyday, because everyday is the “today” the Holy Spirit spoke of.
  • Don’t be deceived into thinking God isn’t caring for you.
  • We’re a part of Jesus’ family, and all the awesome things that entails, so long as we can keep believing along this rough journey.
  • Remember what I just quoted: “If you can hear God’s voice today, don’t ignore it, like your ancestors did during their rebellious years in the dessert after the exodus.”
  • Who rebelled? All the people who were miraculously rescued from Egypt via Moses.
  • And who was God angry with? Those same people who doubted God every step of their journey in the wilderness and ended up dying there.
  • And who didn’t get to go into the Promise Land? Yep. Them. They didn’t make it for one reason: unbelief.

Historical Context

Moses

To the Jews, there was no man greater than Moses. He set his people free from slavery, he delivered the Law, he built the tabernacle, and he lead God’s people to the promise land. To say  the man Jesus was greater than Moses was a substantial claim.

Rabbis said that “the soul of Moses was equivalent to the souls of all Israel.” The Cabbalistic process called Gematria (the numerical value of the letters) has the value of the words “Moses our Rabbi” is the same value of the letters of “Lord God of Israel.” They said that “the face of Moses. was like the Sun;” that he alone “saw through a clear glass” not as other prophets “through a dim glass,” and that there were fifty gates of understanding in the world, and “all but one were opened to Moses.”5

Israelites in the Wilderness

Throughout the wilderness journey of 40 years the Israelites both praised and despised God.

Starting after the Israelites had passed through the Red Sea on dry ground, they sang songs of deliverance, praising God for their miraculous deliverance and anticipating their possession of the Promised Land by the defeat of their enemies (Exodus 15:1-18). But soon after this, the people come to Marah, where the water is too bitter to drink. The people grumble at Moses, demanding to know what they are going to drink. God instructs Moses to throw a tree into the waters to sweeten them, and thus the Israelites are able to drink the water (15:22-26).3

When the Israelites arrive at the wilderness of Sin (virtually a month after the exodus), the people begin to grumble because they are concerned about what they are going to eat. Already they have forgotten the horrors of Egypt, and they now speak of it longingly, especially in terms of the food it seemed to offer them. They accuse Moses and Aaron of bringing them into the wilderness to kill them. God provides them with manna and quail.3

Soon after they camp at Rephidim, where there is no water. The people once again quarrel with Moses and accuse him of bringing them to this place to kill them. In obedience to God’s instruction, Moses strikes the rock with his staff, and water pours forth. And thus God again provides for His grumbling people. Appropriately, the place was renamed “Massah”(“test”) and “Meribah” (“quarrel”).3

Soon they come to Kadesh, the gateway to the Promised Land. Twelve spies are sent to assess the suitability of the land and the military strength of the Canaanites. When the spies returned, they all agreed as to the fruitfulness and desirability of the land. They also agreed on the magnitude of the task of taking possession of the land. There were giants in the land, and the place was well fortified. The spies differed in their faith in God’s promises and in His ability to remove the Canaanites. Caleb and Joshua were confident that God would give them the victory; the other ten did not deem it possible. The people initially wept, but this quickly turned to grumbling and rebellion. They were ready to be rid of Moses and to appoint another leader who would take them back to Egypt.3

Soon there is the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, which ended in the rebels being swallowed up by the ground, followed by fire from the Lord which consumed those offering the incense (Numbers 16:1-35). As a result the people grumbled again against Moses and Aaron, blaming them for the deaths of those who were disobedient and died at the hand of God.3

Later, as on other occasions, the people run out of water, and the whole congregation begins to complain against Moses and Aaron. Somehow, Moses and Aaron were blamed for making the Israelites leave Egypt (as though it were against the will of the people). The people said that they wished they had died in the wilderness earlier, along with their (rebellious) brethren (20:2-5). So the Lord commanded Moses to speak to (not to strike) the rock in the sight of the people so that it would bring forth water for them to drink. Moses struck the rock, in disobedience to God’s instructions. Nevertheless, the rock brought forth water, and the people drank.3

As a result of this pattern of complaints, doubts and disobedience over the course of forty years in the wilderness, God declared he would not let anyone from that generation enter the Holy Land.

Numbers 12:7

When Moses’ sister, Miriam, and brother, Aaron, expressed their jealously of Moses’ leadership and direct interactions with God, the Lord appeared in a “column of cloud” and told them that while he speaks to prophets in visions and dreams, to Moses he speaks face to face because he is “faithful in all my house.” They were thus chastised for having doubted Moses’ leadership.

House of God

The people of God being the house of God is an oft repeated biblical metaphor (“household,” Gal. 6:10; I Tim. 3:15; “spiritual house,” I Pet. 2:5; “household of God,” 4:17). “House” is used six times in this chapter, sometimes with the connotation of a building and sometimes of a family.4

Apostle

An apostle (Greek: apóstolos) means literally, “one who is sent away” as in a messenger or ambassador. The purpose of such “sending away” is to convey messages, and thus “messenger” is a common alternative translation. The same Greek word translated in Latin is missio, from which we get the word “missionary.”2

Moses was a kind of apostle as well. Moses was clearly “sent” by God to Egypt, where he would speak to men for God. Jesus was also an apostle in the sense that he was sent to earth by the Father to lead men from captivity to freedom. As Moses was the one through whom the Law was given, Jesus was the one through whom God finally and fully spoke.3

Psalms 95

Note the attribution of this Psalm of the Holy Spirit.1

The message of the entire Psalm is that people should worship God, but that mere worship, unaccompanied by obedience, will not avail.1

The failure referred to by the psalmist was the failure of an entire generation, punctuated by sins that persisted for forty years. This was not the failure of a few, nor was it a momentary lapse of piety. It was the persistent, life-long, rebellion of an entire nation.3

Meribah and Massah

In Hebrews 3:9 the Hebrew proper names of two locations in the Exodus are translated as common nouns, The proper names, Meribah and Massah, are rendered “tested and tried.”1

In Exodus 17, we are told that the Israelites camped at Rephidim where there was no water to drink. The people complained to Moses, and Moses turned in desperation to God for help. God had Moses strike a rock and water came forth. The Israelites complaining lead Moses to rename the location Meribah and Massah.

Observations

  • The whole typical structure of Israel corresponds to many facts and events in Christianity. 1) The death of Christ is called “an exodus” (Luke 9:31); 2) Christ is the true Passover sacrifice for his people (1 Corinthians 5:7); 3) he is the lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:19); 4) Christians during their probation are said to be, like Israel of old, “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38); 5) baptism is the antitype of Israel’s passage through the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:1); 6) Christ, the living Rock, is their guide through the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:4); 7) the heavenly rest that lies before them is the counterpart to the earthly Canaan which was the goal of the Israelites.1
  • Why did the Israelite generation fail in the wilderness? 1) They feared death by starvation. 2) They saw themselves as weak, such as when observing the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, they said, “We were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight” (Numbers 13:33). 3) They didn’t maintain belief that God was on their side, which ultimately lead to a state of rebellion against God.1
  • The grand and terrible lesson of Israel’s history is that it is possible to begin well and end poorly. In fact, this tragic human tendency dominates much human spiritual experience.7
  • Unbelief is not a lack of faith or trust. It is the refusal to believe God. It leads inevitably to a turning away from God in a deliberate act of rejection.7
  • “Confidence” contains the same thought as “glory.” Ancient Greek writers used this term for firmness under torture; and generally for courageous firmness of character.”1
  • “Confidence” is a translation of the Greek word hypostasis. Elsewhere it is rendered “substance,” to which it etymologically corresponds, and implies a solid reality. The substance of a material object is the material from which the object is made.
  • “Apostle and High Priest” are two titles that signal Jesus’ superiority over Moses as official messenger and Aaron as the Levitical high pries.4
  • Hebrews is the only book of the Bible to call Jesus high priest. It takes an extensive rabbinical argumentation to convince first century Jews that Jesus, from the tribe of Judah, really was a priest. The Dead Sea Scrolls community expected two Messiahs, one royal (tribe of Judah) and one priestly (tribe of Levi, cf. Psalm 110; Zechariah 3-4).4
  • The phrase “the living God” is a play on God’s covenant name YHWH, which is from the Hebrew verb “to be” (Exod.3:14).4
  • The author reminds his audience that the spiritual health and well being of every member of the church is the responsibility of every member of the church, and not just one of its staff who is paid to do so.3
  • “Encourage one another” is a present active imperative. Believers are to emulate the Spirit and the Son in encouraging faith and faithfulness. This is the same root as the Greek word paraclete, which means “one called alongside to help” and is used of the Spirit (cf. John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7) and of Jesus (cf. I John 2:1).4

Discussion

  • The author of Hebrews encourages the hearing of God’s voice. How do we hear it? Have you heard it?
  • Can you lose your salvation? Are you only as saved as your last sinless moment?
  • How do we rationalize our decisions?

References

  1. Coffman’s commentary
  2. Apostle – Wikipedia
  3. Deffinbaugh’s commentary
  4. Utley’s commentary
  5. Cambridge commentary
  6. Barnes’ commentary
  7. Constable’s commentary