When the Israelites took their eyes off of God and His promises to give them the Promised Land wherein lay “rest” from all their enemies, they looked at themselves, looked at their opposition, and doubted God’s promise and therefore languished away in the wilderness for 40 years. The result of that lack of faith was that they could never enter into God’s rest. God told them so in Numbers 14:21-23, “But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers.” In other words, it became impossible for them to enter into the rest God had promised the nation. They tried to do so on their own and were soundly defeated by the inhabitants of that land (See Numbers 14:39-45). It’s impossible to experience God’s rest through our own efforts. God’s promise forbids it just as He forbade the Israelites from entering into their rest.

Something similar is going to be impossible for some of those to whom the author of Hebrews is addressing. In Hebrews 6:4-6a he describes those who will face this impossibility. He says, “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come and then have fallen away…” The Israelites in Egypt were enlightened while all of Egypt was cast into darkness during the 10 plagues. Jesus, the light of the world, could not be overcome by the darkness (John 1:5). The Israelites tasted the Passover lamb whose blood protected them from God’s judgment on Egypt. John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, “behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The Israelites witnessed the parting of the Red Sea and joined in the procession of those who marched through on dry ground while the Egyptians entered a watery grave. Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit which becomes a well of water within us, swelling up into eternal life and whoever drinks from it will have eternal life. The Israelites saw God’s provision day after day in the wilderness and enjoyed the faithfulness of God providing daily manna from heaven. But Jesus is the “true bread” that comes from heaven and those who feast on it will have eternal life. The Israelites saw the promise of a coming Kingdom in the Promised Land where they would find perfect rest.  Jesus came to bring us the Kingdom and has promised to come again with the Kingdom of God wherein we too will find perfect rest.

With respect to the phrase “fallen away,” the idea has appeared twice before in this epistle. Both times, Hebrews 3:12 and Hebrews 4:11, it has to do with events that took place at Kadesh Barnea. That’s why Tanner says, “Thus falling away’ in v 6 is to transgress against the Lord in a way that parallels what happened at Kadesh Barnea when the Hebrews hardened their hearts and rebelled against the Lord in unbelief.”[1] Because of their lack of maturing faith, the Israelites were unable to move forward into God’s rest. Many Christians today languish in immaturity. They wrestle constantly with guilt and bitterness and find no rest from their dilemma. Only the maturing believer, finding Jesus meat throughout the entire Bible, experiences a vibrant and growing faith in Jesus’ complete sufficiency. His grace is sufficient for all our circumstances. Growing up in Christ requires Jesus meat and the Bible is full of it. Melchizedek is a full healthy meal as it illustrates for us the role of Jesus in dealing with our sin and guilt. The author will go there next.

[1] J. Paul Tanner, “The Epistle to the Hebrews,” in The Grace New Testament Commentary, ed. Robert N. Wilkin (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), 1053.