It is no wonder that we are reluctant to spend much time in the book of Hebrews. Most of us are not Jewish, so the Old Testament references don’t carry the same weight. At times the writing is confusing and at others it seems contradictory. Look at how this chapter starts:
God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. (Hebrews 4:1 NLT)
First there is a promise. God has created rest for us and desires for us to enter it. Then there is a concern. Not everyone will enter it. The writer is very concerned about this. It may be the motivation for writing this letter.
This passage makes clear reference to the Israelites camped on the banks of the Jordan deciding whether they will believe God’s promise. They have spent a year in the wilderness in preparation for this moment. Two spies, Joshua and Caleb, are encouraging to trust and move into the promise. Ten spies are discouraging them by focusing on the giants and the task rather than on God and his promise. We know what they decide and for forty years they experience anything but rest as they wander and die in the wilderness.
So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall. (Hebrews 4:9-11 NLT)
There is rest waiting for us, both now and in the future. Yet, there seems to be a paradox. We have been given the opportunity to enter God’s rest because of the work that Jesus has completed on the cross. The work is done. Our labor is not the entry pass to rest and yet some translations say “let us labor” or “let us strive”. I think the writer is encouraging us to act and to not hesitate. His desire is that we would live out our lives on this earth in a place of rest.
I have enjoyed some times of rest recovering from surgery. As I have regained strength I have begun thinking about things that need to be done in the future. Thinking about the challenges ahead never helps me. I seem to be capable of letting anxiety about the future remove the rest of the present. This is always a result of failure to trust. Too often this leads to disobedience, either failure to do what God wants me to do or doing something that God doesn’t want me to do.
So, here’s my personal paraphrase of verses 9-11. God has prepared rest for me. I can always be at rest because of the work God has done. When faced with a challenge that I think depends on me, I should quickly choose God’s way and rest in him. If I choose my own way I will fall.