The writer, having stated the case, the circumstance, and the proposed resolution of how the ‘person and work of Jesus’ addresses our human condition including our fears and hopes, we get product differentiation. How it this sale pitch better than the competing offers of Synagogue Judaism, as it is being reinvented at the same time in the same region, post 70CE?
The argument is careful and concise and respectful of the traditions of Moses. The last chapter mentioned Abraham, but the Torah comes from Sinai, in the context of Exodus. Does Jesus replace, improve upon, complement, or somehow change the ideal forged in the wilderness?
We’re not just dealing with that ideal, says the writer. Recall the rebellious crew at Masseh and Meribah, the grumbling in the desert, the golden calf. It is possible to screw up, to choose wrongly in response to the offer of Torah. The tradition says they spent 40 years in the wilderness, and did not enter into their rest in the Promised Land. There’s a conditional element that honours human freedom to respond to the covenant promise.
Argument from analogy is pretty vulnerable to misconstruction – do we understand what is meant by distinguishing the value of a builder from that of the built, or of an heir from an inhabitant? I can only hope that we tiptoe carefully around the ecumenical and interfaith risks of reading this crudely.
Similarly, I shudder at the risk that people will read into this text a medieval cosmology of a three tier universe where ‘enter into rest’ means ‘going to heaven’ and the alternative for mortals is eternal damnation in hell. The text really doesn’t say that – does it?
1 Therefore, brothers and sisters, holy partners in a heavenly calling, consider that Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession,
2was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses also ‘was faithful in all God’s house.’
3Yet Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house has more honour than the house itself.
4(For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.)
5Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later.
6Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope.
7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your ancestors put me to the test, though they had seen my works
10for forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and I said, “They always go astray in their hearts, and they have not known my ways.”
11 As in my anger I swore, “They will not enter my rest.” ’
12Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.
13But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
14For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.
15As it is said, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.’
16Now who were they who heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses?
17But with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?
18And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who were disobedient?
19So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.