Summary: Looking at the meaning of Hebrews 4 as an application of Numbers 13 & 14
The Sabbath is irrelevant. The Sabbath has been changed. The Sabbath of the Jews is now fulfilled in the Spiritual Rest we have in Jesus. This morning I would like to talk to you about the 4th chapter of Hebrews. As I have met with people of many different faiths and talked to them about the seventh day Sabbath, one argument that is often used to discredit the role and purpose of the Sabbath day is the Spiritual Rest of Hebrews Chapter 4. This service really follows on from what we shared from Philippians 4 a couple of weeks ago, and will lead into what I am going to share with you in a couple more weeks’ time. Today I would like to look into this passage and try and get a better understanding of what the writer of Hebrews was actually trying to say. To better understand this chapter of the Bible we need to study the story which is used to illustrate Hebrews 4. I would like to spend the first half of this morning’s service looking into Numbers 13 and 14, which is the story of the Israelite’s first attempt to enter the Promised Land.
I would like to pick up the story at the point where the Israelites are camped at Kadesh which is in the desert of Paran. The Israelites proposed that from here they would send some spies to check out the Promised Land. This was indeed, for those who know this story, the beginning of their trouble. So the spies were picked according to God’s command, and they went up to survey the land. After being away for 40 days, they returned. The people, who remained, were eager with anticipation and excitement. They were eager to hear what this Promised Land was like. They had waited and walked for what seemed like forever, and now here they were. Finally the spies returned. They returned with not only stories to tell, but also produce from the land, this clearly demonstrated how rich and fertile the land was. It was certainly the land of plenty that God had been promising. They were excited and jubilant.
Suddenly everything changed. Hope and courage melted away into cowardly despair, as the spies shared the sentiments of their unbelieving hearts. These men, the spies were filled with discouragement about the situation. This discouragement could have only come from the devil. Their unbelief cast a gloomy shadow over this expectant and excited group of people. They forgot about the mighty power of God who had rescued them from Egypt. They forgot about the God who parted the red sea, the God who wrote the 10 Commandments, the God who provided manna, a cloud by day, and a fiery cloud by night. In their unbelief they had limited the power of God and distrusted the hand that had safely guided them and cared for them so far. The people were distressed and desperate in their disappointment.
God had promised this land to the people, and Caleb one of the 2 spies who did not give the wicked report said, let’s go up and possess the land, for we can overcome these people. But the 10 wicked spies set themselves up against Caleb and his friend Joshua, and painted the Promised Land in ever darker pictures, making it seem seemingly impossible for them to win. Not only was this testimony that they gave evil, but they were lying and exaggerating. The report was full of inconsistencies. This is true with anyone who leaves themselves open to the leading of Satan, he will set them on a course that will have them use whatever means necessary to get their point across.
Moses now pleads for the sake of this nation before God, crying out for them to be spared, even after all their wickedness. So the Lord promised to spare Israel from immediate destruction; but because of their unbelief and cowardice, He could not allow them to possess the land of Canaan. As the people were rebelling, they cried out, "If only we had died in the desert". Our God answers prayer, and He answered this prayer of the Israelites. The people who were alive at that time and who were over 20, were told that they would not enter into the Promised Land, but that their offspring would. God made a prophecy at this point in time, he told them that they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years, representing the 40 days that the spies were away in the land of Canaan.
When God’s judgement came down on the people they knew that He was right and that he was just, and that they had done the wrong thing. But in the book "Patriarchs and Prophets" it says that they seemed to sincerely repent of their sinful conduct. But their sorrow was because of the consequences of their actions (i.e. not possessing the Promised Land), not because of a sense of their disobedience and ingratitude to God. When they found out that God would not change His decision about the 40 years in the wilderness, their selfishness arose again, and they declared that they would not return into the wilderness! In commanding the Israelites to go back into the wilderness, God was testing the sincerity of their repentance. They demonstrated clearly that their repentance was not genuine. The hearts of the disobedient Israelites were totally unchanged. They only needed the excuse to demonstrate it. In contrast, the command to not enter Canaan for 40 years was a bitter disappointment to Moses, Aaron, Caleb & Joshua, but yet without a murmur they accepted the divine decision.