Hebrews 4

Overview

  • The author says:
  • Now that you know there is a rest, a Promised Land, still out there, don’t stop short of getting there.
  • We, just like out ancestors of the exodus, have heard the good news that God is delivering us.
  • But they didn’t get any value from hearing that message because they didn’t combine faith and obedience (follow-through).
  • Yet, we have! And we get to enter God’s rest!
  • Remember the scripture where God said, “I swear I won’t let them get to the end of the journey and enter the Promise Land. No restful reward for you!’”
  • But also remember that God has rested (i.e. reigned as king), and has had a restful reward (i.e. a kingdom of his own) available to his people since the last act of creation.
  • In the beginning of the Bible, it says that, “On the seventh day, God rested from all his work.”
  • Yet in the passage above it says, “No restful reward for you!”
  • It turns out God’s rest, his full reign, has been available since the beginning of time and the people back then were unable to get into it because they just couldn’t keep trusting in God.
  • So God picked a day when people could enter his reign, and he called that day “today.”
  • God established that “day” 500 years after the exodus, when King David wrote that poem that said, “If you can hear God’s voice today, don’t ignore it.”
  • Think about it: If Joshua, who lead the Israelites into the Promise Land, had managed to bring the people fully into God’s rest (i.e. under his reign), then why would God still have to establish a “day” when people can enter it?
  • Well, all this means that God’s perpetual-seventh-day-reign-like rest is still available for his people to enter.
  • And anyone who enters God’s rest can quit working to try and be saved. They can chill under God’s care alongside God.
  • So let’s try really hard to join God in his reign, and make sure that none of us miss out because we stop trusting and following God like our ancestors did.
  • God’s promises to his people (to make them his own and bring them into his reign) are still alive and active.
  • His promises are sharp, like a duel-edge knife that can be used to cut even the smallest, most integrated bits of you in two. He can see through your deepest thoughts and attitudes right into your heart.
  • Nothing can be hidden from God, not one thing in all creation. Like a sacrificial animal cut open, we are all laid bare, vulnerable to be inspected by God, the one who will judge if we have a blemish on our hearts.
  • But we have a high priest, a person who makes atonement for us, who didn’t just pass through the curtain of the temple into the Holy of Holies, but actually passed through the curtain of heaven to the real throne of God–and his name is Jesus, the Son of God, the one in whom we have faith.
  • Our high priest, Jesus, can totally empathize with us and our weaknesses because he, too, was tempted in every way, but yet he managed not to go astray.
  • That should give us the confidence to enter into God’s presence any time we want to receive mercy and grace in our time of need.

Historical Context

Sabbath Rest

The term “Sabbath” (Hebrew Shabbath) means “day of rest”. It derives from the Hebrew verb shavath defined as “repose, or to desist from exertion” (often “cease”). Another noun form of this root, shebeth (“cessation”), is identical to the common word “to sit.”4

Sabbath was the seventh day in the Jewish calendar, and it was differentiated and set apart (sanctified) from the other six days based on the seven day creation account in Genesis 1. The seventh day is assigned a special significance (blessing) by God, based on the fact that it was the day on which God rested. All subsequent commands to keep the Sabbath assume that this sanctity of the seventh day has already been established (here, at creation) by God. Thus, the Israelites are not commanded to sanctify the Sabbath, but to conduct themselves in such a way as not to profane it (Exodus 31:14; Isaiah 56:2).3

The Torah portrays the Sabbath concept both in terms of resting on the seventh day and allowing land to lie fallow during each seventh year. The motivation is described as going beyond a sign and remembrance of Yahweh’s original rest during the creation week and extends to a concern that one’s servants, family, and livestock be able to rest and be refreshed from their work.4

The Torah describes disobedience to the command to keep the Sabbath day holy as punishable by death and failing to observe Sabbath years would be made up for during the captivity that would result from breaking covenant.4

The Old Testament describes the Sabbath as having three purposes: 1) To commemorate God’s creation of the universe, on the seventh day of which God rested from (or ceased) his work; 2) To commemorate the Israelites’ redemption from slavery in ancient Egypt; and 3) As a “taste” the Messianic Age.4

The Day of Atonement was regarded as a “Sabbath of Sabbaths.” It was on this day alone that the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies inside the Tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant contained the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were engraved. The presence of YHWH in Holy of Holies required that the High Priest be first purified by the sacrifice of a bull in a prescribed manner. Entering the Most Holy Place on other days or without fulfilling the ritual requirements would subject the priest to death.4

The rabbis often asserted that God’s Sabbath (i.e., “the Day of Rest”) never ceased because the regular formula of Genesis 1, “there was evening and there was morning, day. . .,” is never mentioned in connection with this seventh day of creation in Gen. 2:2,3.1

In Matthew 11:25-30 Jesus offered all “rest” in him, an obvious “Sabbath” illusion, with the added claim that he is the source of the rest. These verses immediately precede the “Sabbath controversy” of chapter 12. In chapter 12 Jesus boldly identified himself with God, and indeed, as God, by claiming to be greater than David, greater than the priests, and greater than the temple. He claimed to be the Lord of the Sabbath, thus having the authority not only to interpret the Sabbath Law, but even to set it aside altogether. Jesus set himself up as the true rest, the true Sabbath, the true peace of God.3

Observations

  • The theological issue involves the faith (salvation) or lack of faith of the Israelite adults (20 years and up) who participated in the exodus. Did their lack of faith in the spies’ report mean that (1) they were not allowed to enter Canaan or (2) they were not allowed to enter heaven?1
  • Psalm 95:7-11 has been quoted several times in the context of chapters 3 and 4. Each time a different part of the OT passage is emphasized (like a sermon). 1) 3:7-11 emphasizes “do not harden your hearts” of Ps. 95:8; 2) 3:15 emphasizes “when they provoked Me” of Ps. 95:9; 3)  4:3,5 emphasizes “they shall not enter My rest” of Ps. 95:11; 4)  4:7 emphasizes “today” of Ps. 95:7.1
  • Israel who, though entering Canaan, did not in fact enter fully into God’s rest, in the higher and better sense of becoming a holy nation of righteous and devoted worshipers of God, as God had commanded them (Exodus 19:3-6). Instead they continued to rebel against God time and again; they rejected the theocracy, demanded a king like the nations around them, worshiped idols, oppressed the poor, and even sacrificed their children to Molech. Thus, while entering a type of God’s rest, they failed to attain any reality of it.2
  • The author wants to assure his readers that the Jews failure to enter God’s rest was not due to the fact that the rest had not been prepared, because it existed since the day that God finished his work of creation. This is proved by the words, “And God rested” in one place, and the words “my rest” in another. God’s rest is therefore a fact, and it is clearly his purpose that some shall enter into it.2
  • The argument is that a rest remains because it was not entered by the Jews. Therefore, it was not entering Canaan nor keeping the sabbath day, for they did that. Thus, the true rest referred to here can be neither of those things but must be understood as a reference back to the rest of God himself which is still in progress, a rest the Jews could have entered but did not, and likewise a rest that many now have the right to enter but may come short of it.2
  • The original audience may have conclude that they had missed entering into their rest (i.e., their spiritual inheritance) because the Lord had not yet returned. They expected Jesus to return soon after he ascended into heaven (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 2 Thess. 2:1-12). The writer urged his readers to wait patiently for the Lord to return (10: 36-37). None of the original readers had failed to enter their rest (inheritance) because they had missed the Lord’s return.5
  • The author implies to his audience that there is a rest from the burden of the law of Moses available to them. In Christ they now able to be kept in perfect peace, an ease that was not available to their ancestors.7
  • Some theologians think that the “word of God” used in Hebrews is based on the Egyptian usage of “word” (logos) meaning “reckoning” or “calling into account.” They assert this fits the original author’s overall argument, that there will be a divine reckoning through examination, using the metaphor of a surgeon (p. 227). Therefore, this text is not a description of the revealed word of God, but the discerning judgment of God.1
  • The word “sword” used by the author (Greek, machairan) was originally a small one like a boning knife that was used to cut up meat. In its double-edged form it was a symbol of judges and magistrates in the Roman world. It illustrated the power of those officials to turn both ways to get to the bottom of a case. However it is possible that by the time Hebrews was written machaira (sword) had come to mean a sword of any size, long or short.5
  • The author implies that the word of God can express and distinguish what is “soulish” (natural) and what is spiritual in our motivation and actions. It can do so even when those elements are as close to each other as our joints and marrow. It is even able to expose our thoughts and attitudes (cf. 1 Cor. 4:5). God’s Word can reach to the innermost recesses of our being. We must not think that we can bluff our way out of anything, for there are no secrets hidden from God.5
  • Many Christians think this verse shows that God will judge unbelievers with his piercing word, but in the context it refers to God judging believers to determine their rewards.5
  • In Hebrew thought the “heart” represents the entire person and their inner motivation.1
  • “Everything is uncovered” in the text is a metaphor that literally means “to expose the neck by lifting the chin.” This OT metaphor was a warning to judges; here it refers to meeting God face-to-face on judgment day, who has full knowledge of our motives.1
  • The author, in telling the readers they will be cut by the word of God, may have been making an allusion to to the state in which the sacrifices called burnt offerings were laid on the altar. The animals were stripped of their skins, their breasts were ripped open, their bowels were taken out, and their backbone was cleft. Then they were divided into quarters; so that outwardly and inwardly they were fully exposed to the eye of the priest, in order to a thorough examination (Leviticus 1:5,6); and, being found without blemish, they were laid in their natural order upon the altar and burnt.2
  • The “word of God” is most plainly “what God speaks.” The idea here is, that what “God had said” is suited to detect hypocrisy and to lay open the true nature of the feelings of the soul, so that there can be no escape for the guilty.6
  • Isaiah 49 uses the sharp sword analogy as well. Here Isaiah uses it to describe himself as the tool/weapon God will use to reconcile Israel (his people) back to himself. In Hebrews, the author argues that Jesus is the ideal representative of God (greater than the greatest prophet, Moses), whose words can reconcile all his people.
  • To separate the soul from spirit implies the taking of a life. The idea here is that the word of God is like a sharp sword that inflicts deadly wounds. The sinner “dies” as if an actual sword had pierced his heart.6
  • Jesus’ “ascending into heaven,” or literally passing “through the heavens” contrasts with the first High Priest, Aaron’s merely passing beyond certain enclosures in the tabernacle.2
  • “Let us approach God’s throne” is a phrase that emphasizes the subject’s continual involvement with this activity (such as, “let us continually be approaching”). This is a technical term in the Septuagint (LXX) for a priest approaching God. In Hebrews this term is used of fallen mankind’s ability to approach God as if they too were priests because of Jesus’ sacrifice (cf. 4:16; 7:25; 10:1,22; 11:6). Jesus has truly made his followers a “kingdom of priests” (cf. Exod. 19:5,6; I Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6).1
  • The high priests of Judaism could only approach God at his earthly throne (the ark of the covenant), in the holy of holies in the temple, once a year. God’s throne of judgment has now become a throne of grace (undeserved help) for us to approach at any time.5

Discussion

  • Do you think Jesus could have sinned? Why or why not?
  • How does the word of God divide the soul and spirit? What does that mean to you? Why would the author say “soul” and “spirit”? What are the differences? Why would they need to be divided? How have you experienced this in your own life?
  • What does the author mean that the word of God is alive and active? What word is he talking about? What implications does that have? How should that effect the way we live?
  • What “rest” do you think is promised to you? What does it look like? Feel like? When is it reached?
  • We often try to please God by trying to do the right thing, or feel guilty that we are not living up to his standards when we inevitably fail. How does the concept of “rest” play into this thinking? How does it make you think differently about your relationship with God and what he expects of you?
  • The author says we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence… in our time of need.” Do you feel you can do this freely? What hesitations do you have? How does Jesus give us confidence?

References

  1. Utley’s commentary
  2. Coffman’s commentary
  3. Deffinbaugh’s commentary
  4. Biblical Sabbath
  5. Constables’ commentary
  6. Barnes’ commentary
  7. Gill’s commentary

Hebrews 1

Overview

  • The author tells his audience:
  • Back in the day, God revealed himself and his true nature in bits and pieces through many people over a long period of time. But now, via Jesus, God has shown us who he fully is and what he truly wants all at once, definitively. Done. #dropthemic
  • All that belongs to God now belongs to Jesus (just like everything a father has goes to his son) because Jesus was the reason, means and method by which the universe was made to begin with.
  • Just like light is how we see the sun, so the Son (Jesus) enables us to see the light of God. He is the brightness of God’s splendor.
  • Furthermore, Jesus is the exact representation of everything God is. Just like the marks on a coin tell you it’s monetary value, so Jesus demonstrates God’s worthiness.
  • And you know how God spoke everything into existence? And how God’s words equal life? Yeah, well, Jesus is that word.
  • After Jesus’ death and resurrection (i.e. the events that removed sin from all our lives, forever), Jesus went to heaven, exalted as God is exalted, because his work was done. He did what he came to do. #dropthemic #again
  • So, don’t mistake Jesus for being an angel just because he delivered a message from God and then went back up to heaven (you know, like angels are known to do). Oh no, no, no. He’s way superior to them. He’s God himself.
  • Jesus is called the Son of God, and I know angels are called “sons of God”, but to which angel did God ever say, “You are my son?” (singular tense, yo). Umm, no one. He only said that about the Messiah, back in the Psalms, remember?
  • Or how about that time, way back when, when King David wanted to build God a temple, and God’s all, “No, I’ll be the builder here, and I’m gonna build you a dynasty, a kingdom that will last forever and rule the whole world. And that final, ultimate king, I will call him son, because he’ll inherit everything in creation.” Remember that? Yeah, that was predicting Jesus.
  • Then there’s those passages in the Old Testament where it says God wins in the end and everyone (including the angels) will worship him. That was about Jesus, too.
  • Remember, angels are God’s servants. They’re like the wind and lightning–swift, strong and temporary.
  • But in Psalms it says, “God set his chosen one (his son, his Messiah) on a throne that will last forever.” For. Ev. Er.
  • Another Psalm (that one where the writer is all desperate and depressed until he remembers how awesome God is) says, “All of the universe is temporary, compared to God. God alone is eternal.”
  • No angel heard God say, “I’ll make you my heir until all the forces that oppose you are defeated.” He only said that to the Messiah.
  • Angels just help people along the path to salvation. Jesus is salvation.

Historical Context

Glory

Glory carries the idea of light. It is used to describe the splendor surrounding God and is thought to be eternally shining “above the heavens” (cf. Exodus 24:15; Kings 8:11; Ezekiel 8:4; Psalm 24:7, 8, etc.). The full blaze of this glory, i.e. ” the face” of God, no one is allowed to see; for no man could see him and live. Moses was hidden in a cleft of the rock while the God’s glory passed by, and saw only its outskirts, i.e. the radiance left behind after it (Exodus 33:18).6

The glory of God is occasionally manifested as an unearthly radiance; as in the vision of the shepherds (Luke 2:9), the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28, etc.), the ecstasy of Stephen (Acts 7:55). “God is Light;” 1 Timothy 6:16, “Dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen nor can see.”6

In Hebrews, Jesus is described as being the “brightness” of the light that is God’s glory. He is the light which emanates from a luminous body. The rays or beams of the sun are its “brightness,” or that by which the sun is seen and known. The sun itself we do not see; the beams which flow from it we do see. The meaning here is, that if God be represented under the image of a luminous body, as he is in the Scriptures (see Psalm 84:11; Malachi 4:2), then Christ is the radiance of that light, the brightness of that luminary.8

In the OT the most common Hebrew word for “glory” (kabod) was originally a commercial term (which referred to a pair of scales) which meant “to be heavy.” That which was heavy was valuable or had intrinsic worth. Often the concept of brightness was added to the word to express God’s majesty during the Exodus.2

Angels

The Hebrew word, Malʾakh (מַלְאַךְ), is the word used most often to describe angels and means “messenger” (from the Ugaritic lak “to send”). It is applied frequently to human agents (e.g., Gen. 32:4) in addition to heavenly agents. Elsewhere in the Bible angels are called ʾelohim (usually translated “god” or “gods”; Gen. 6:2; Job 1:6), more often bene ʾelohim or bene ʾelim (lit. “sons of gods”) – in the general sense of “divine beings.” They are also known as kedoshim (“holy beings”; Ps. 89:8; Job 5:1). Often in Scripture, an angel is called simply a “man.” For example, the mysterious being who wrestled with Jacob is first called a man, then ʾelohim (Gen. 32:24). The Bible also speaks of winged creatures of angelic character called cherubim and seraphim, who serve a variety of functions.10

Angels are thought to be immortal, though created beings (tradition holds they were created on the first or second day of creation), and though they seem to know more than mankind, they are not omniscient.10

In the Scriptures, angels: (1) Bear away the souls of the righteous in death (Luke 16:22), as in the case of Lazarus. (2) Oppose purposes and designs of Satan, not in their own names, but in the name of the Lord (Jude 1:6). (3) Execute the punitive judgments of God upon the incorrigibly wicked, as in the case of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35) and that of Herod (Acts 12:23). (4) Exert influence over the rulers and governments of nations, as in the case of Persia (Daniel 10:20). (5) Aid providentially in bringing the unsaved to hear the redeeming words of the gospel, as in the case of Cornelius (Acts 10:3). (6) Exercise solicitous care over little children, as shown by Jesus’ words (Matthew 18:10).1 (7) Deliver critical messages from God. (8) Helped Moses deliver the Law to Israel (Deuteronomy 33:2).

Ultimately Jews believed there were millions and millions of angels and that they presided over many things including the sea, the frost, the dew, the rain, the snow, the hail, the thunder and the lightning. Angels were also the wardens of hell and torturers of the damned.1

Firstborn Sons

In Israel, the firstborn son was to inherit the mantle of leading the family in his father’s place. The firstborn also received a double portion of the father’s inheritance. This is why, when twins were born, great care was taken to identify the first to come from the womb.4

The author of Hebrews is speaking of Jesus as God’s Son not in terms of his natural birth, but as it relates to his preeminence, and rights to inheritance in creation as the “firstborn Son.” Note that Jesus is not only the “firstborn,” He is also the “only begotten” Son, so that he alone is the heir of all things.Indeed, the mere use of the title in the singular, “my Son,” carries with it a different idea from its use in the plural used to describe angels (“sons of God”).6

To modern minds, “firstborn” sounds like a chronological concept, that someone was born first in time in a family. But for the Hebrews, firstborn signified position, not time. The oldest son was usually, but not always, the heir to the father’s estate. As such, he was in a position of privilege and preeminence over his brothers. Note that King David was not the firstborn son of Jesse. In fact, he was the youngest son. But he was the most prestigious and preeminent son, because God had chosen him above his brothers.3

Psalms 2:7

  • “You are my son; this day I have begotten you.”
  • This Psalm (thought to be written by David) sets the context that there is a rebellious confederation of subject kings opposing the king of Israel (called “the Anointed” of the Lord). In view of their hostile preparations, the Lord in heaven is laughing. Then the king of Israel speaks, “I will tell you what the Lord said unto me, ‘Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.’ Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and for thy possession the ends of the earth.” Then follows an admonition to the rebels to do homage to this “son,” submission to whom is submission to the Lord, and whose anger is as the Lord’s anger.6
  • In this Psalm, David essentially calls the day of his coronation as king the day of his birth as God’s son.6
  • This Psalm is considered a coronation Psalm and was used to confirm God’s chosen leader of Israel.
  • What time period do the words,  “This day have I begotten thee” apply? The author of Hebrews makes is clear that Jesus has always existed (as God had), so he was not implying that Jesus was created, as man was. At the very least he is implying that Jesus’ incarnation is a “begetting.” However, Paul said, “God hath raised up Jesus; as also it is written in the second Psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee” (Acts 13:33). Thus, the begetting mentioned is the resurrection of Christ, for it was the resurrection that established all that Christ said and did.1
  • The main argument of the author here does not turn on the time when the “begetting” happened, but on the fact that this was said to Jesus and not to any one of the angels.8

2 Samuel 7:14

  • I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to me.” A sentiment similar to this is found in Psalm 89:20-27.
  • In 2 Samuel, David wanted to build a temple, a “house” for God. God made it clear that He did not really need a “house.” Instead, God promised to build a “house” – a dynasty – for David. God assured David that there would always be someone of his descendants who will sit on the throne of Israel. After David dies, God will raise up one of his descendants to take his place. God then tells David that when his son sins, He will correct him (verse 14). Thus, we have a double prophecy. David will always have a descendant to sit on the throne. But beyond this, David’s descendant, the Messiah, will reign forever because He is eternal. God will not need to correct Him for committing iniquity.4
  • The “son” in this passage originally referred to Solomon, as David’s heir, and reinforces that the father-son relationship between God and a man is not about one’s birth; it is about being installed on the throne.4

Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalms 97:7

  • “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
  • These passages reflect how God will triumph over all his enemies and as a result all the “gods” or “angels” will bow before him.

Psalms 104:4

  • “He makes his angels spirits and his servants flames of fire.”
  • The context of the psalm is that God has arrayed himself in the glories of the universe and operates through the powers of nature.6
  • The Rabbis often refer to the fact that God makes his angels assume any form he pleases, whether men (Genesis 18:2) or women (Zechariah 5:9) or wind or flame (Exodus 3:2; 2 Kings 6:17).7
  • “Flame of fire” probably refers to lightning – which is often the meaning of the phrase. The word “ministers” here, means the same as angels, and the sense of the whole is, that the attending retinue of God, when he manifests himself with great power and glory, is like the winds and the lightning. His angels are like them. They are prompt to do his will – rapid, quick, obedient in his service; they are in all respects subordinate to him, and occupy, as the winds and the lightnings do, the place of servants.8
  • As flames of fire they are God’s agents of judgment and illumination. Wind and fire were also symbols of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.9

Psalms 45:6-8

  • “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”
  • This psalm celebrated a royal wedding, perhaps of King Solomon or one of David’s other descendants, addressing the king as God.3
  • This psalm is addressed to “the precentor” (“the chief musician”), which shows that the psalm was used in the temple services, and thus, whatever might be the occasion of its composition, was understood by the Jews of old as having an ulterior meaning.6
  • The Hebrew term “anointed” (msh) is the OT word for Messiah (masiah).In the OT prophets, priests, and kings were anointed with olive oil as a symbol of God’s choice and provision for an assigned task. In this context it also refers to the cultural usage of olive oil at a time of joy and feasting (cf. Isa. 53:11).2

Psalms 102:25-27

  • “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”
  • This Psalm is labeled, “a prayer of the afflicted when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord.” The psalmist has gone through some difficult trials, which he describes in strong poetic language in the first part of the psalm. He feels as if he is about to be taken away in the midst of his days. But in his weakness and desperation, he considers the eternality, power, and unchangeableness of the Lord as Creator. He says that even though heaven and earth will perish, God remains. Like a man throws away old clothes, God will throw away the universe, but He remains the same, and His years will never come to an end.2
  •  This Psalm was originally addressed to Jehovah, but the author of Hebrews unhesitatingly applies them to Jesus.1

Psalms 110:1

  • “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”
  •  At the beginning of the psalm, two forms of “lord” are used; the first is YHWH, the second is Adoni (Lord). David’s Lord (the Messiah) sits on YHWH’s (lord) throne, in the place of authority and power.2
  • The phrase “to make an enemy a footstool,” is borrowed from the custom of ancient warriors who stood on the necks of vanquished kings on the occasion of celebrating a triumph over them as a token of their complete prostration and subjection (Isaiah 10:6). The enemies referred to are the foes of God, and the meaning is, that the Messiah is to be exalted until all those foes are subdued.8
  • This psalm is quoted or alluded to more frequently than any other psalm in the New Testament (Acts 2:34; Acts 7:55, 56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20-22; 1 Peter 3:22; Hebrews 1:3, 13, 14; Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 10:12, 13; Matthew 22:41; Mark 12:35; Luke 20:41).6

Observations

  • The personality of God, and the ability to know God as a distinct person (vs. a force of nature), is a concept underlying the whole fabric of the Christian faith.1
  • The author of Hebrews indicates that the same God who gave the Old Testament through mediators has likewise given the New Testament and its system, but this time in person.1
  • The contrast in the manner of God’s speaking to the prophets in piecemeal, here a little and there a little, is set against the revelation for the new covenant through the Son alone.1
  • The Jews believed that prophets wrote Scripture. This is why Moses was considered a prophet (cf. Deut. 18:15) and why the Jews labeled the historical books of Joshua through Kings as the “former prophets.” Therefore, this phrase does not refer to the OT prophets only, but to all the OT writers.2
  • The Jews saw history divided into two ages: the current evil age of rebellion and sin and the coming age of righteousness inaugurated by the coming of the Messiah. The OT emphasizes the coming of the Messiah in judgment and power to establish the new age.  The coming of this new age is designated by the phrase “last days.”2
  • “Exact representation” is a phrase found only here in the NT but is found often in the writings of Philo. This Greek term was originally used of an engraving tool, but it came to represent the mark it made. Jesus not only reflects deity, He bears the unique stamp of deity.2
  • The representation that Christ has “sat down” is a testimony to the completed nature of his work. In the Jewish economy, the high priest did not sit down when he went into the Holy of Holies, there being no provision of a chair, testifying to the preparatory and temporal nature of the atonement that he made; but not so with Christ who having accomplished all things is seated at God’s right hand.1
  • The metaphor of sitting at “God’s right hand” is based upon the custom of ancient kings to elevate their favorite minister to a seat on the king’s right hand.1
  • Notice that the author confirms Jesus’ standing through a series of seven OT texts from the Septuagint (mostly from the Psalms): Psalm 2:7; II Sam. 7:14; Ps. 97:7; Ps. 104:4; Ps. 45:6-7; Ps. 102:25-27 and Ps. 110:1. Seven is the number of perfection in Jewish numerology.2
  • The “name” of an individual in Scripture often indeed implied the inmost essence of that person.7

Discussion

  • The key issue the author of Hebrews is addressing in chapter one is one of “demoting” Jesus to the rank of an angel. His audience reasoned that Jesus was an important messenger, but certainly not God, himself. In what ways do we, or our society, still demote Jesus to a position lower than God? Are we more comfortable with him being a good man, or a prophet, or a demigod, or just a sub-set/aspect of God? Would we rather just think of him as something less than the creator of the universe? What contradictions does Jesus present for us in accepting him fully as God? After all, God is supposed to be eternal, all powerful, omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (everywhere) and immutable (unchanging), how could Jesus have been any of these things as a First Century Jewish carpenter from an obscure village who ended up dying? Do we really believe that Jesus was fully God?
  • Who do you think God’s enemies are that are subdued and made into his “footstool”?
  • The author of Hebrews doesn’t argue for Jesus’ divinity from Jesus’ personal history–his miracles, his birth stories, his teachings, etc. Instead he argues from the cultural context of his audience, i.e. the Old Testament. He takes their understanding of God and shows how it points to Jesus as God. What cultural context could be used today in a similar way to show that Jesus is God?

References

  1. Coffman’s commentary
  2. Utley’s commentary
  3. Cole’s commentary
  4. Deffinbaugh’s commentary
  5. Gill’s commentary
  6. Pulpit commentary
  7. Cambridge commentary
  8. Barnes’ commentary
  9. Constable’s commentary
  10. Jewish virtual library – angels

Jonah 2

Overview

  • While inside the great fish, Jonah finds some time come up with a little Psalm.
  • Jonah says, “I was totally screwed, and when I called out to God, he picked up and answered!”
  • “I was literally in the grave, in the dark place, when God heard me,” J.J. goes on.
  • Then Joe gets real when he says, “I felt like God had thrown me out. Into the deep, out where I was overrun with waves, sucked down into the sea.”
  • “But,” Joner goes on, “Even though I’m pretty sure God had turned his back on me, I kept looking up to heaven.”
  • “The water was sucking me in. I was drowning!” Jonah declares. “Seaweed. Was. Wrapped. Around. My. Head. I sank down to the bottom of the ocean, and the land of the living was permanently out of reach. That’s when God came to my rescue.”
  • Joe Joe goes on, “In the midst of dying, I remembered God. I prayed and my prayer made it to heaven and God heard me.”
  • “There’s those idol worshipping people out there (I won’t name names, but they drive boats and live in Nineveh), and they give up on their gods,” Jonah says.
  • “But I will offer sacrifices to God. I’ll stay faithful. I’ll be thankful.” And to wrap it up, Jonah declares, “Salvation really is from God.”

Historical Context

Psalms 

Jonah’s prayer in chapter 2 has a lot of parallels with the Old Testament Psalms. For example: Jonah 2:9 says, “Salvation is from the Lord,” whereas Psalms. 2:9 reads, “Salvation is from the Lord,” and Psalm 3:8 says, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.”1

Below is a list of more parallels:2

Jonah 2 Psalms
Jonah 2:3b Psalms 18:7; 120:1
Jonah 2:4b Psalms 18:6; 30:4
Jonah 2:5 Psalms 42:8
Jonah 2:6 Psalms 31:23; 5:8
Jonah 2:7 Psalms 18:8; 69:2f
Jonah 2:8 Psalms 18:17; 30:4; 103:4
Jonah 2:9 Psalms 142:4; 143:4; 18:7; 5:8
Jonah 2:10 Psalms 88:3; 31:7; 26:7; 50:14,23; 42:5; 116:7

Sheol

In ancient Jewish belief, Sheol is a place of darkness to which all the dead go, both the righteous and the unrighteous. It is a place of stillness and darkness cut off from life and from God.4

In Sheol people are “shades” (rephaim), entities without personality or strength.4

Early descriptions of Sheol see it as the permanent place of the dead. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek (~200 BC), the word “Hades” (the Greek underworld) was substituted for Sheol, reflecting a change in attitude about the underworld as a place of punishment, meant for the wicked dead alone.. This tradition seems to be carried over into the New Testament depictions of the afterlife.4

Observations

  • The prayer Jonah offers up in chapter 2 is very brief. It can easily be read in less than sixty seconds.2
  • Jonah’s psalm seems more self-centered than those in the Book of Psalms.1
  • One key difference between Jonah’s prayer and the Psalms is that God’s character is scarcely mentioned. Not until chapter 4 does Jonah get around to addressing the character of God, in particular his grace, compassion, long suffering, and lovingkindness.1
  • The grammatical arrangement of the prayer seems to speak of a deliverance already experienced rather than of one expected. It is a prayer of thanksgiving than a prayer. When Jonah realizes that he was saved from drowning, he uttered his gratitude, and saw that he might hope for further rescue.6
  • Jonah’s prayer is not about the deliverance from a great fish. Rather it is a psalm of deliverance from drowning.2
  • The thought is that as Jonah sinks he goes far from the earth, the home of the living, and its doors are closed and barred against him forever. No return to the light and sunshine seems possible. 2
  • “Cast out from your sight,” means less out of God’s purview, and more out of his favor. Now that Jonah has achieved running away from “the presence of God,” he feels it to be a poor idea.5
  • Jonah saying he would look towards God’s “holy temple,” most likely did not mean the temple in Jerusalem, rather that he was looking up to God in his holy temple in heaven.5
  • It is interesting the Jonah would criticize those who worship idols (v. 8) considering the idol-worshipping sailors who worked so hard to save his life, and who, themselves, ended up offering sacrifices to God.
  • To Jonah, the great fish, no doubt looked initially like yet another form of death coming his way as he drowned. Yet,  what looked like death became safe-keeping.7
  • The First Century Jewish historian, Josephus, says Jonah was spit up on the shore of the Euxine sea; but the nearest part of it to Nineveh was one thousand six hundred miles from Tarsus, which the whale, very slow in swimming, cannot be thought to go in three days; besides, no very large fish swim in the Euxine sea, because of the straits of the Propontis, through which they cannot pass, as Bochart from various writers has proved. It is more likely, as others, that it was on the Syrian shore, or in the bay of Issus, now called the gulf of Lajazzo; or near Alexandria, or Alexandretta, now Scanderoon. But why not on the shore of Palestine? and, indeed, why not near the place from whence they sailed? Huetius and others think it probable that this case of Jonah gave rise to the story of Arion, who was cast into the sea by the mariners, took up by a dolphin, and carried to Corinth.3

Discussion

  • Jonah refers to the gates of the earth as barring him from returning to the land of the living. Seeing how, in Jonah’s case, God reaches down from the highest heavens into the midst of death itself, and breaks through the gates to save him, wheat does this do to your understanding of Jesus telling his disciples that the gates of Hell will not prevail (Mt. 16:18)? How does this enlighten our view of Jesus rescuing people, even from death? Is there anywhere God won’t go to save someone? What does this say about our duty as Christians to pursue people? What barriers stand in our way? Why do we think this?
  • The great fish would’ve been an intimidating sight. What Jonah thought was just another form of death was actually God’s saving hand. What experiences have you had where salvation looked like death at first, then life afterward?
  • Jonah had sought to flee God’s sight, but once he found himself truly out of God’s sight he wanted back in. What does this tell us about ourselves? Do we want God just to look away while we do what we want, or do we truly want him gone? When do we feel abandoned? Did we ask for it?
  • In the midst of Jonah’s prayer of thanks to God for saving him, he insults the “idol worshippers” (i.e. the sailors and Ninevites) – people who tried hard to save him, and people to whom he was supposed to preach a message of salvation. Why do you think he did this? What does this say about Jonah? Do we offer God thanks by contrasting ourselves with people we don’t like? Why do we do this?

Research

  1. Deffinbaugh’s commentary
  2. Coffman’s commentary
  3. Gill’s commentary
  4. Sheol
  5. Jamieson’s commentary
  6. Pulpit commentary
  7. Barnes’ commentary

Philippians 1

Scripture: Philippians 1:1-30

Overview:

  • Paul and Timothy say, “What’s up?” to the members, elders and service volunteers at the church in Philippi.
  • Paul says that he’s stoked when he prays about the church in Philippi because they’ve been partners with him since the beginning, and he’s confident they’ll stay on this good path until the very end.
  • He then says that when he prays for them, he prays that they fall more and more in love with God the more and more they understand his ways and display God’s character to the world.
  • Paul then reassures the church that his arrest and impending trial isn’t an indication that things are going bad for the gospel, on the contrary it means the kingdom of God is advancing. It’s going so well, in fact, that Caesar’s own guards now know about Jesus, and some people are starting to have the courage to preach the good news of Jesus openly.
  • Paul then says, “Yeah, there’s some schmoes out there preaching about Jesus with the hope that it will somehow make my circumstances worse, but hey, Jesus is being preached, so that’s cool.”
  • Paul goes on to say that like Job in the Old Testament, he’s a good dude to whom bad things are happening, and in no way is he going to let Jesus down and give up. Uh huh. No way. No matter how the trial turns out (freed or fried), Paul is going to make sure Jesus gets center stage.
  • But, giving it his best guess, Paul thinks he’s going to survive this ordeal and be able to see the Philippians again, and then they’ll be able to party down about how cool God is together.
  • Paul then moves on to say, “No matter what the outcome is for me, you all need to act as one team, one people, focused on one goal. Don’t get spooked by the opposition you’re facing. Your circumstances are like mine. Suffering unjustly for being a good person is what Jesus did, so that’s what we’ll do too. Hang in there, like I’m doing.”

Historical Context:

Overseers and Deacons

First century churches didn’t have one specific leader, rather they had a group of elders, or overseers, appointed to run the church.

Deacons (literally, “servants”) were members of the church who had been appointed to manage services to the community (such as the distribution of food for the widows).

Paul rarely addresses the leadership of a church directly in his greeting. In Philippians, Paul may have mentioned these two groups specifically as a means of saying “thank you” to those who sent the gifts (generally a job of the deacons). Paul may have also mentioned them because there was some conflict between the deacons and overseers. Some commentators suppose that the appeal Paul makes to the two women, Euodia and Syntyche (4:2), to get along was because they were representatives of each group and the rivalry they may have they had.

Opposition to the Gospel

Paul mentions two groups that are creating difficulty for himself and the Philippians. The first are “some who preach Christ out of rivalry” in Rome (where Paul is) and who suppose they can “stir up trouble for me while I’m in chains” (1:15, 17). The second are people in Philippi that that Paul says the church should be unafraid of because “they will be destroyed” (1:28).

With regards to the first group, there were Christians in Rome before Paul arrived. When Paul arrived some of the other Christians may have lost some of their standing as leaders in their community. Given the tone of the letter Paul wrote to the Romans, they had some theological conflicts as well. There are a few motivations they may have had for opposing Paul:

  • The Roman Christians were jealous and wanted to attract attention to themselves again. 4
  • They may have argued that if Paul’s gospel was true that he wouldn’t be in prison. 6
  • Some of the Christians may have simply wanted to distance themselves from Paul (perhaps for their own safety) or diminish his influence (due to theological differences).

The second group of people lived in Philippi. Once again are multiple options as to their identity:

  • As indicated by Paul’s emphasis on Jesus as “lord” and “savior” (two titles reserved for the Roman Emperor), there may have been citizens of Philippi who were advocates of the cult of the emperor and were putting pressure on the Christian Philippians because their allegiance was being given to another “lord”. 6
  • Considering how concerned Paul was in general about Jews and Gentiles forming one people of God, the Philippian community may have been having difficulty with Judaizers–Jews who required Gentiles to follow the Jewish law in order to become a Christian. Paul often taught Jewish Christians to see that Christ brought an end to the law as a means of relating to God, and instructed Gentiles how to moderate their behavior toward the Jewish believers so as not to offend them.1

Praetorian Guard

Paul says that it is evident throughout the “whole palace guard” (literally, the praetoria) that he is in chains for Christ (1:13). The Praetorian Guard was a group of ten thousand hand-picked soldiers, concentrated in Rome, originally established by the emperor Tiberius. These soldiers had double pay and special privileges and eventually became very powerful politically.3

One of the responsibilities of the Praetorian Guard was to watch over the prisoners who had appealed to Caesar, such as Paul. A soldier would have been literally chained to Paul, day and night, in Paul’s rented house where he was under house arrest. It is interesting to think that the soldier to whom Paul was chained might have been Nero’s bodyguard the day before; or one of the executioners of Octavia (Nero’s wife) who then carried her head to Poppaea (Nero’s mistress).2

Job and Psalms

Paul uses Old Testament quotes and allusions to tell the Philippians that his imprisonment isn’t because he has done something wrong and God is punishing him. Rather that he, like the Job and King David, is a righteous man unjustly persecuted.

First, the phrase Paul uses in 1:19, “this will turn out for my deliverance,” is a quote from the Greek Old Testament of Job 13:16.6

Job 13 contains one of Job’s more poignant speeches, where he argues against the perspective of his friends who insist that his present situation is the result of hidden sin. Job knows better and pleads his cause with God, in whom he hopes and before whom he affirms his innocence. Indeed, the very hope of appearing before God in this way would be his “salvation,” because the godless shall not come before God (Job 13:16). And “salvation” for Job means “I know I will be vindicated” (v. 18).1

Second, when Paul goes on to say that he will “in no way be ashamed,” but have “sufficient courage” (1:20)  he picks up the language of Psalm 34:3-6 where David thanks God for delivering him from all his fears and taking away any possibility of shame, and Psalm 35:24-28 where David speaks about the vindication of God’s people.6

In biblical Greek “ashamed” has little to do with inner feelings resulting in embarrassment but with the disgrace of failing to trust God—or more often, the disgrace that the humble who do trust will not experience, despite present appearances to the contrary. Paul’s present usage appears to be echoing this motif from the Psalms, where the same words (“shame” and “be exalted”) often stand together in the same passage.1

Paul is telling his readers that he is experiencing no “shame” from being in prison; rather his hope is that Christ will receive honor however the trial turns out.1

Observations:

  • Paul characterizes himself and Timothy as “servants (Greek: douloi) of Christ,” a favorite title of early Christian leaders (James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Jude 1:1; Rev. 1:1). Undoubtedly the background for the concept of being the Lord’s slave or servant is to be found in the Old Testament scriptures. It was used of national Israel at times (Isa 43:10), but was especially associated with famous personalities such as Moses and the prophets.It is notable that Paul does not call himself an apostle as he does in almost every other letter. Here he emphasizes his humility not his authority.
  • Holy people” (or “saints” as it is often translated) is one of several Old Testament terms used to designate Israel that was appropriated by New Testament writers. Its origins can be traced to the covenantal setting of Exodus 19:6, where God addresses Israel as his people, “a holy nation”—a people consecrated and subject to Yahweh and his service. Its New Testament usage most likely derives from Daniel 7:18, where God’s end-time people, who receive the kingdom as an eternal inheritance, are called “the saints of the Most High.” Their becoming “God’s holy people” is the direct result of their relationship to Christ Jesus; they are the saints in Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus is responsible for their becoming the people of God.1
  • “Every time I remember you” indicates that Paul was praying for them at set times, according to his Jewish heritage. The Jews of Paul’s day regularly prayed: 1) In the morning, in connection with the morning sacrifice (9:00 am); 2) at the ninth hour in connection with the evening sacrifice (3:00 pm); 3) at sunset (~6:00 pm).6
  • Paul prays that their love may abound more and more in “knowledge and depth of insight” (1:9). The primary sense of the word translated “knowledge” is not so much “knowledge about” something as the kind of “full” or “innate” knowing that comes from experience or personal relationship. The second word translated “insight” denotes moral understanding based on experience, hence something close to “moral insight.1
  • “the day of the Lord” is an expression drawn from the Old Testament and carries with it both negative and positive aspects. In Joel 2:1-2 the prophet refers to the day of the Lord as a day of judgment and wrath, as well as blessing and salvation (Joel 3:14-16). Both of these senses are present in the writings of Paul.6
  • From the Roman point of view, Paul is on trial over a matter of religio licita (“illegal religion”—to determine whether Christians are still under the banner of Judaism), or perhaps ofmaiestas (“treason”—because he proclaimed another than Caesar to be Lord?—see Acts 17:7). From Paul’s own point of view, the gospel itself is on trial, and his imprisonment is a divinely appointed opportunity to preach it at the highest echelons.1
  • The term “sincere” (Greek: eilikrineis) can be translated as “without spot” and refers to moral purity. Originally, the term was derived from two words: 1) “sun” and 2) “judge.” Together the sense was “tested against the light of the sun,” “completely pure,” and “spotless.” The picture may be of someone bringing a garment or the like out into the sun to see if there be any stain or spot on it.6  In Latin, the word “sincere” means “without” (sin) “wax” (cere). Italian marble vendors and certain merchants of porcelain fell into the habit of hiding flaws in their merchandise by filling cracks and blemishes with a certain kind of wax; but the more reputable dealers advertised their wares as sin cere (without wax); and from this derived the meaning of the English word “sincere.” The true meaning of it is “without deception” or “without hypocrisy.”7
  • “Blameless” (Greek: aproskopos) has to do with being ‘blameless’ in the sense of ‘not offending’ or not causing someone else to stumble.2 This concept should be taken in the sense of community connectedness, rather than individual piety.  Paul is concerned with both liberalism and conservatism in that individuals may be so polarizing and prideful in their beliefs that they drive a wedge in the community (“cause someone to stumble”) rather than promote unity.
  • The phrase “decide what is best” carries the idea of “proving something as credible, worthy, or true by testing it.” It was used to refer to the testing of metals and coins to appraise their worth.6
  • Paul says that his imprisonment actually will help “advance” the gospel. The noun translated “advance” (Greek: prokopen) was a technical term from the nautical world meaning “to make headway in spite of blows” referring to a ship at sea striving against the wind.6
  • The same Greek word translated “depart” (analuo) is used to describe the release of a prisoner from his bonds (Acts 16:26), a military unit striking camp (literally, “move a tent”), and sailors releasing a boat from its moorings.2
  • Paul hopes the Philippians will “stand” firm in one spirit. The term “stand” (Greek: stekete) was used in the context of military battles referring to “soldiers who determinedly refuse to leave their posts irrespective of how severely the battle rages.”6
  • When Paul uses the phrase “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy…” (1:27) he is leveraging a political metaphor for citizenship–one that the Philippians would’ve known well. Rather than using his ordinary Jewish metaphor “to walk (in the ways of the Lord),” Paul appeals to the Philippians pride in having been made a Roman colony and therefore Roman citizens. Paul urges them to live out their citizenship in a way that is worthy of the gospel of Christ. What is intended by this wordplay is something like, “Live in the Roman colony of Philippi as worthy citizens of your heavenly homeland.”  Not only does it appeal to their own historic pride as Philippians, but now applied to their present setting, it urges concern both for the mission of the gospel in Philippi and especially for the welfare of the state, meaning in this case that they take seriously their “civic” responsibilities within the believing community. Their being of one mind and heart is at stake; disharmony will lead to their collective ruin.1
  • The word translated “frightened” (1:28) refers to “spooking” horses.1

Discussion:

  • It would be very natural for Christians in Rome and Philippi to view Paul’s imprisonment as a result of him doing something wrong and being punished by God. After all, if God was on his side, wouldn’t he protect Paul? Paul argues the very opposite: it is an indication of his rightness that something wrong is happening to him. The injustice happening to him is the means by which God will share the good news of his love for the world. Why do you think we equate safety with God’s favor? How does “losing” by the world’s standards look like “winning” by God’s standards? How do we know if we are in the right or wrong if bad things are happening?
  • Paul prays for the Philippians that he hopes their “love will abound” as they grow in depth of insight to determine what is “best.” What does Paul mean by this? What is the connection of “abounding love” to discernment? What is the connection of the joy Paul emphasizes he has with the knowledge of his own circumstances?
  • Why does Paul condone people preaching about Jesus “out of selfish ambition”? What impact does the motives of Christians have on the power of God’s message? About whom might Paul say this about today? Who is furthering the kingdom even if we don’t like their motives? And why does Paul condone those “selfishly” preaching Jesus in Rome but tell the Philippians that their opponents in Philippi will “be destroyed”? What is the difference between the groups?

References:

  1. IVP commentary
  2. Constable’s commentary
  3. Robertsons’ commentary
  4. Easy English commentary
  5. Hagelberg’s commentary
  6. Herrick’s commentary
  7. Coffman’s commentary
  8. Barnes’ commentary