Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Unbelievers in the Wilderness

I have a question about Hebrews 4:2.  Who is ‘them’ referring to?  The gentiles?

Hebrews 4:2
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.

This is a very interesting passage.  It shows how God’s dealings with the nation of Israel were so consistent.

Hebrews 4:1
Let us [the writer includes himself] therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.

The writer could not have been Paul because he did not fear losing his salvation – his justification before Almighty God.

2 Timothy 1:7
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

Hebrews 4:2
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.

In the context, ‘them’ refers to the people of Israel who came out of Egypt with Moses.  Stephen called them the ‘church in the wilderness.’

Acts 7:38
This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:

Hebrews 3 talks about Moses and how he was a faithful servant in all his house.  Then in verse 8 there is a warning:

Hebrews 3:8
Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:

Those people in the provocation were the Hebrews who were in the wilderness for 40 years with Moses.

Numbers 32:13
And the Lord'S anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of the Lord, was consumed.

That is ‘them.’

Hebrews 3:9-11
When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.  So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)

The ‘rest’ for them was the land of Canaan where they would get their kingdom.  Israel did enter the land with Joshua and they temporarily possessed their land.  God gave them a taste of the Kingdom through David and Solomon, but everything really went downhill after that.  Hebrews Chapter 3 sets the tone for Chapter 4.

Hebrews 3:18-19
And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not

So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.  They were the generation that died during those 40 years in the wilderness, particularly the men of war who caused the nation of Israel to fear going into the Promised Land.

Numbers 13:32-33
And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature.  And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.

There were some like Joshua and Caleb who believed that they did not need to fear because God would be with them.

Numbers 14:6-8
And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes:  And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land.  If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.

But the others caused the whole nation to fear and rebel against Moses and God, and to murmur and complain.

Numbers 14:27
How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me.

 God said that they would not enter into his rest.

Numbers 14:23, 29, 34-35
Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it:

Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward which have murmured against me.

After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise. I the Lord have said, I will surely do it unto all this evil congregation, that are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.

The unbelievers died off over the course of 40 years.  That is why we have the book of Deuteronomy, the second giving of the Law.  Many things in Exodus are repeated in Deuteronomy for the new generation that would enter the Promised Land; they were only children when their elders refused to enter the land 40 years earlier.  They were allowed to enter the Kingdom; the unbelievers were not.

Hebrews 4:2 deals with the future Little Flock of Jewish believers and reminds them that their ancestors did not enter the land because of unbelief.  The Kingdom and the land are always connected.  Knowing this, the warning in 4:1 makes sense.

Hebrews 4:1
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.

That generation didn’t get into the Kingdom in the Promised Land.  The future Little Flock also has a promise for the Kingdom in the same land and they need to hold on in fear lest any should fall away and come short of it.  Why?

Hebrews 4:2
For unto us [the generation of Jews in the time of Jacob’s Trouble Jer. 30:7; the 70th week of Daniel 9:24) was the gospel preached, as well as unto them:

Us is the Jews alive at the writing of Hebrews; but the context of Hebrews is future to us during the time of Jacob’s Trouble.  The gospel that was and will be preached is the gospel of the Kingdom.  ‘As well as unto them’ cannot be referring to gentiles; they are not found anywhere in these passages.  ‘Them’ is the church in the wilderness – the assembly of Israelites that came out of Egypt with Moses.

but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.

Therefore, them’ refers to the Israelites in the wilderness who did not believe God when he promised to bring them into the land and give them a Kingdom.

Hopefully this helps! 

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