Notes on the KJV of Hebrews
Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.
For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.
And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest.
Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:
Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.
There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.
For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Some scholars have judged that Hebrews is little more than a series of meditations on Jewish Christian themes, but I find it to be a solid progression of argument centred on Jesus the Son of God, who as the originator and completer of faith, leads humanity into the “rest” of God, of which all religious ceremonies are mere shadowy metaphors.
This chapter deals with the objections that this “rest” has already been established, a) by the seventh day of creation, and b) by the entry of the Jewish people into the land of promise.
The second point is answered by the assertion that God’s promise of the land did no good to those who first heard it because it was not “united to them by faith” (my translation), that is, the promise was not made part of their living. The use of unusual terms to denote precise spiritual conditions is typical of this letter.
The logic the argument in verse 3 is better advanced if we translate “we who have believed are entering a place of rest” – the author is speaking of a present reality. This rest is different a) from the Sabbath of creation and as we shall see in verse 8 different also from b) the rest which Joshua (Jesus is a misleading translation) gave them in the conquest of the land.
Psalm 95 however speaks clearly of a “today” in which the promise of rest is renewed and made relevant to the readers of this letter. Verse 9 especially in the KJV is one of the great phrases of Christian faith, which has provided encouragement and consolation to believers in many different times and places, threatened with persecution or battling with a sense of futility. There remains a rest…. This is a Sabbath rest, available to those who have finished their work as God finished his: it is God’s rest into which human beings can enter because they have shared in God’s creative task.
But who are the people of God? The Bible in no place says that Israel has ceased to be God’s people; God is waiting as it were for them to accept Jesus, but they are not rejected. Doubtless something similar is true of the other great faith to reflect on Jesus, namely Islam. And St. Paul talks of gentile people who are God’s people according to their own lights. Jesus tells us that the King of heaven is present in the least important of our brothers and sisters. Although those who name Jesus as their lord have a special calling, the bible suggests that God includes in his people all who do not exclude themselves by a-pistia, meaning unbelief, and more specifically, idolatry.
From verse 12 the author turns to a characterisation of the word of God, which he/she sees as the complete message about God communicated by Jesus in his life death and resurrection, and preached by the church. It includes the Jewish scriptures. His image of a two-edged sword is vivid and specific, emphasising its penetrating wisdom, its precise judgements taking a person apart as skilfully as any great swordsman or we might want to say, surgeon, as in T S Eliot lines,
“the wounded surgeon plies the steel
that questions the distempered part”
Nobody can hide from the creator’s knowledge of his/her creatures, all of whom are utterly exposed to scrutiny -the phrase “naked and opened” (gumna kai tetrachelismena), which is very forceful, seems to me to be from the Greek gymnasium and to describe a wrestler caught in a stranglehold.
And yet, after all this emphasis on the severity of God the author moves to describe Jesus as our high priest, who has ascended to God to minister on our behalf, which he can do feelingly because he was in all points tempted (better, tested) like as we are, only without sin. The fact of Jesus being tested it central to this author’s view of him. His human weakness is central to his capacity to minister to us and for us. The author can therefore describe God’s rule as the throne of kindness (grace) where we receive kindness and goodwill. For this reason we should approach our God with boldness (Greek parresia, another of the author’s favourite words.)