July 19, 2017.
This week in class I have decided to continue to go over a few things that we missed last week and add on part of chapter 3 of the book of Hebrews since I didn’t make it through the majority of the lesson last week and I have found in studying and thinking about this next lesson (Jesus Superior to Moses), there is a lot of it I want to combine with one of my final lessons on eschatology in Hebrews. So, if you didn’t get a chance to read last week’s class, click here! You will need that lesson for some background to the questions and for a foundation of how we will be looking at Hebrews as we continue. In this post, I want to address mostly the second section (or at least half of the section) in which the Hebrew author makes an argument for Jesus as superior to not only the angles but also Moses, the great leader of the Israelite people out of Egyptian bondage.
I also am trying to restructure the class a bit to refine it to where I am trying to take everyone. To do this, I think it is important that I give you the overall point I want to impress throughout this study. If you take nothing else from this class, by the end of the class, I want you to have a better understanding and appreciation for the early church’s use and application, specifically in the epistle of Hebrews, of the Scriptures found in the Old Testament, and perhaps a more robust view of what we should do with them today. Therefore, at the end of most of the lessons, I plan to ask this question:
How does the Hebrew writer use/view/apply the Old Testament in these passages?
Try to keep this question in mind as we go throughout these lessons, and how this question relates to us today.
Before we get into the text in Hebrews 3, I want to remind you of the three things that I think we should keep in mind about the mindset of a second period Jew as we read the text that is a product of this time and culture:
- The Jews were deeply immersed in their scripture and often interpreted them as narratives that they were still living.
- Israelite captivity, in the mind of a second temple period Jew, had not ended.
- The Jews in the second temple period, especially towards the end of the period, were fully anticipating the coming Messiah.
With that in mind, let’s turn to the text that forms the foundation of the Hebrew writer’s exposition in chapters 3 and 4.
Psalm 95 is a relatively well-known psalm, at least the first half, sections of which have found their way into modern church hymns/songs. It is a psalm of praise from the beginning, reaching a climax of praise in the worshipper’s prostration before YHWH, the God of Israel. The psalm calls the worshipper to praise YHWH with a joyful noise and song for his creation and salvation. The participant in the song is seen as part of God’s pasture, the sheep of His fold, which has connections to a broader theme of the Lord as Shepherd to his people (Ps. 23), which is also applied to the Messianic figure (see Isa. 40:11, Ezek. 34:12, 23, 37:24, Zech. 13:7) and fleshed out in Jesus’ ministry (John 10:11-18, Matt. 26:31).
After the call to praise, the author turns to an example to warn the audience to not harden their hearts before the Lord. Here is another example of a difference between the Masoretic Text (MT) and the Septuagint (LXX). If you have an ESV, verse 7b-9 will read:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.”
This follows the tradition of the MT, which finds its primary referent in the waters at Meribah incident recorded in Exodus 17:1-7. The LXX Interprets “Meribah” as “in the rebellion”, which seems to be a reference to the people’s rebellion when the spies came back from spying out the land of Cannan recorded in Numbers 14. The LXX translates the words for “Meribah” and “Massah” in Hebrew as their actual meaning (“revolt” and “trial”, respectively), which in turn brings to mind the people’s rebellion of refusing to go into the land because of fear. This latter reading is the direction that the Hebrew writer takes the psalm, expounding on and using the Cannan story to make application to his audience in his own time period. This is an interesting point, as the theology of the Hebrew writer is based on a story that the MT (which is the basis for the Protestant Old Testament) doesn’t actually reference. Regardless, both stories depict the children of Isreal as rebels, which can be used as the warning the psalmist wants to give.
It would seem that the original audience of the psalm would likely hear it in much the same way the Hebrew writer does, as a call to worship and a warning against rebellion, yet without the further development and theology that the Hebrew writer puts behind the psalm, for reasons discussed above. In the second temple period, it is seen that some Jews thought along the same lines as the LXX (unsurprisingly, to be fair), interpreting the backdrop to be the people’s rebellion in Num. 14 as opposed to the waters of Meribah in Ex. 17. Even so, the psalmist recalls the story to make application to the people of his own day, as does the Hebrew writer.
Exalted above Moses (3:1-3:19)
- Why has Jesus been “counted worthy of more glory than Moses”?
- How does this allude to II Sam. 7:8-17?
Jesus is seen here as the builder of the house, which the Hebrew writer sees as deserving more glory than the house itself. Thus, with this discussion, the Hebrew writer places Jesus as the head of God’s house, effectively placing Him on equal playing field with God Himself, which he seems to flesh out by reading Jesus into Psalm 95, discussing YHWH. This is vital, as the Jews would have seen Moses as the representative of the whole Law, or Torah. If Jesus is Superior to Moses, then He is superior to the Law, a theme that will be developed further later on.It would seem that the Hebrew writer uses the analogy of the house as an original analogy, but I tend to think that it is an echo of II Sam. 7:8-17 where Solomon builds the temple of God. Jesus is seen as the ultimate fulfillment of that passage, which leads to the next question.
- Compare and contrast Moses’ and Jesus’ vocation.
- How was Moses a servant and Jesus a son?
- Which are we? Cf. 2:12-13
- How are we God’s house? Cf. I Cor. 3:16-17, 6:19-20, John 2:18-22
Moses, and by extension the Law, is seen as a servant of God’s house, leading them to their Messiah, Jesus (cf. Gal. 3:23-29). Jesus, therefore, is the Son, the heir, of the house, which He has now come to claim. In some ways we are His brothers, fellow heirs (see 2:12-13 and Rom. 8:12-17, and yet in other ways we are the house itself (see I Cor. 3:16-17, 6:19-20, John 2:18-22). The New Testament speaks of us in both ways, as each analogy cannot fully express our true vocation in and through Christ. However, I think the temple theme that is brought out in many of these verses is important, as the temple was where heaven and earth overlapped; it was the place of the presence of God. We, therefore, are to be points of God’s presence on earth in our interaction with the world. This was the true divine calling of humans, to be image-bearers, God’s representatives to the world. Through Christ, we can aspire finally to this calling in ways that Israel failed to do (though often we fail in the same way). Let us thus represent Christ in our daily lives, pointing the world to its Creator.
- Why does the Hebrew writer see Psalm 95 as still applicable to the Christians to whom he is writing?
The Hebrew writer focuses strongly on one word, “Today”, taking it to apply past the time period of the original backdrop of the Psalm and projecting it into his current time. As we noted at the beginning, the Jews were deeply immersed in their scripture and often interpreted them as narratives that they were still living. This is a narrative that the Hebrew writer did not want his audience to fall into, and used it as a current warning against rebellion and unbelief.
- How is unbelief/rebellion seen in this passage? How are we still susceptible to this today?
In the backdrop of the LXX version of the Psalm, the children of Israel rebel against God by refusing to go into the promised land because of their fear of the giants in the land. Likewise, fear is one of the strongest obstacles to truth faith/trust in God even for us today. We would like to believe that they have faith, but when the fear of the unknown, or of persecution, or of things that will threaten our comfort/living creeps in, our faith in Jesus sometimes all but crumbles. Fear/anxiety is seen as the opposite of faith in the gospels, a tell-tale sign that the fearful does not have a strong faith (see Matt. 6:25-34, 8:23-27). This is a temptation that we need to avoid, not justify. The circumstances may have changed, but the heart of the problem remains.
- How do we forget about/not trust God today?
This is very similar to the previous question. The children of Israel, we often say, seem to have no excuse for their fear and rebellion- they had just been lead out of Egypt with many great signs and wonders! If we were there, well, we would have been different! Or would we? God has not only done great things for the children of Isreal, but He has also worked in our lives in tangible (at least in hindsight) ways. Yet, though God has brought us through tough times in the past, we sometimes tend to forget what he has done and fear the unknown that lies before us. I think this is one of the reasons that the Psalms so often reflect on the things that God has done for the people in the past- we need to be reminded! Further, I think v. 12-14 speak to a gradual hardening of our hearts through sin. We typically aren’t lead away all at once, but rather little by little. We get distracted by “the deceitfulness of sin”, and start to drift. This causes us to be hardened in two ways- one through sin and the other through a distance (in mind) from God so as to not remember or even not to have the relationship we have had with Him in the past. To avoid this compounding problem, we need to make a discipline of prayer and study, reviving our relationship with the Creator, the one who has power over everything, even our deepest fears.
- How does the Hebrew writer use/view/apply the Old Testament in these passages?
The Hebrew writer cites Ps. 95 as an instructional (and therefore applicable) teaching for his audience, who were likely Jewish Christians, post-Pentecost. I believe this point is important for how we are to view the Old Testament in terms of our walk today, as we will continue to explore going forward. It is true that the epistle to the Hebrews is very clear about the new covenant that we as Christians are under (see chapters 8-10), but I think we sometimes can read too much into this and interpret this as, more or less, “that means the Old Testament doesn’t matter anymore.” This is simply not the case, as we see here even a clear example of the Hebrew writer using an Old Testament passage and applying its message to his audience of Christians. We will get to the nuances of the better covenant found in chapters 8-10 (and actually in the Old Testament as well), but for now, continue to think about the use of the Old Testament by the author of Hebrews.
I hope you continue with us as we journey through the book of Hebrews. May our journey bless and enrich your spiritual life.
Suggested Reading: Hebrews 3-4, Psalm 95, Numbers 14.
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”