The Bible, including the New Testament, is full of various exhortations. Many of them are connected to other ideas which must not be dismissed when trying to understand what we’re exhorted to do. In Hebrews 4:1-10, we’ve seen how “God’s rest” is still available for us to enter. It’s not the departure from Egypt that the writer is addressing or the rest Joshua would bring when they entered the Promised Land, but it was Jesus’ rest. It was a more profound kind of rest. It was rest for our souls. The writer compared it to creation rest. After six days of creation God stopped or ceased. The Sabbath (see Exodus 20 devotions) is a time to cease from all our works and focus on the finished work of God. Those who have entered into Jesus’ rest have ceased from their own works just as God has ceased from His on the seventh day. The Israelites were exhorted to stop working and focus on the work that had been completed for them. The same is true for us today. The rest for us is on the Lord’s day. It’s the day we focus all our attention on the work that Jesus completed for us and which He personally proclaimed as “finished” on the cross.

Based on all this discussion, the writer then exhorts his readers in Hebrews 4:11 saying “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” This exhortation is just like the fourth commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy. How do you keep it holy? “You cease from all your works.” It’s an exhortation alright, but it’s an exhortation to “stop working” and “rest” in the finished work of Christ. Trusting in the complete sufficiency of Christ is not easy. We live in a world of sowing and reaping and it’s nearly impossible in many cases to stop relying on ourselves and our own efforts and simply trust Jesus. I like the brief comment by another commentator: “We must enter that rest. Clearly, the rest is entered by faith; but it takes diligent faith. This shows us that faith is not passive; it takes diligence to trust in, rely on, and cling to Jesus and His work for us.”[1]

When the writer mentions “the same sort of disobedience” he’s referring to those at Kadesh Barnea who, instead of trusting in God and His promises, looked to themselves and their own abilities. Disobedience in this case is “unbelief” as the author mentioned earlier. The exhortation is to trust God and His work and not follow the example of those in the wilderness. The Handbook for Translators explains this Greek word for disobedience. It says, “The Greek word means ‘example,’ …it should be made clear that a bad example is meant.”[2] The point of verse 11’s exhortation is to rest confidently in God’s work. It’s not an exhortation to try harder to be a better person, or do more, or give more, or serve more. Another commentator says, “…although we live in one of the most hurried, tense, tumultuous societies that has ever existed, we can experience His perfect rest by maintaining and cultivating our relationship with Him. But we must take time out from our own busy lives to do that.”[3] If we’re ever going to experience Jesus’ rest we have to stop relying on ourselves and fully trust Him.

[1] David Guzik, Hebrews, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible (Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik, 2013), Heb 4:11.

[2] Paul Ellingworth and Eugene Albert Nida, A Handbook on the Letter to the Hebrews, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 82–83.

[3] J. Dwight Pentecost and Ken Durham, Faith That Endures : A Practical Commentary on the Book of Hebrews, Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2000), 84.