God doesn’t need rest. He is God. But this passage says that he does rest. And that rest is for us.
When he delivered them from slavery in Egypt, God spoke to Israel through Moses, telling them of the rest he had for them. But, “the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (4:2). Israel didn’t believe. And their unbelief led to rebellion: “those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience” (4:6). Israel did not enter God’s rest (the Promised Land) because they did not believe God. And unbelief leads to disobedience.
So, God passed judgment upon them. He is able to, since “no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (4:13). As Bob Dylan said, “even the president of the United States will sometimes have to stand naked.” Before God, none of us can hide our unbelief. We can’t hide our sin.
Which is why the author of Hebrews is so concerned to tell us to “strive to enter [God’s] rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (4:11). The rest that God offered Israel was a type, a foreshadowing of the kind of rest we would receive in Christ (4:8-9).
Our disobedience is a testimony to our unbelief. God calls us to walk in faith in him, trusting in what he’s done for us in Christ and what he’s doing in us by the Holy Spirit. When we sin against his law, we quench the Holy Spirit and show that our hearts are not acting in faith.
Today, we are called to actively pursue God, to walk in his ways, to trust in him and what he’s called us to. And we can live that way—striving to walk in God’s ways—because of Christ:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. (4:14)
This Word says, because we have Jesus, let’s hold fast to our confession, let’s cling to faith. We need to strive to do so, but we aren’t left to our own devices. Christ was tempted just as we are, but he never sinned (4:15). And because of that, we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16).
Are there ways that you struggle to follow God? Look to your great High Priest, ask for his help, and he will help you. In Christ, we can confidently seek the grace and mercy of God to bring us through whatever we face. That doesn’t make our work any less strenuous. But it does give us every last ounce of strength we need to do the work God calls us to, so that we can, by faith, enter God’s rest.
May we all look to the Day when we will enter God’s rest, and, by faith, work as hard as we possibly can in the meantime.