"Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of the disobedient" - Hebrews 4:11
In Hebrews chapter 3 and 4 Jews who had accepted Jesus as their Messiah were contemplating a return to the religious human reliant ways of their Jewish tradition and laws. In these chapters they were warned against leaving God's place of "rest" for a wilderness life. As a backdrop illustration to such sin Paul references the conquest of the Promised Land. This conquest has a great deal of valuable principles for living.
The Promised Land spoken of in the Old Testament and referenced in the New Testament is a type or symbol of the abundant Spirit filled life promised by Jesus. When we look to the Old Testament account of how God's people came into the Promised Land therefore, there is a great deal of spiritual insight for us to gather in and apply to life.
God called Abraham to go to a "land that I will show you" (Gen. 12:1). This "land" was to be God's gift to His people, a place flowing with milk and honey and the blessing of His presence (Deut. 6:3). It was a place where God's people would find rest and peace in the presence of the Lord. God promised Abraham and his descendants this land.
God's Promised Land was a geographical location with real boundaries in the Old Testament. But that is not all it was. It was to be a place where God will dwell with His people. God called His people out of the world of Egypt to go to the Promised Land to meet with Him in fellowship (cf. Exodus). Along the way He led them with a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. He was there leading them. He also provided a Tabernacle where they could experience His presence. God desires for His people to be with Him, in His presence.
In the New Testament the Promised Land remains a physical geographical destination prophetically promised to God's people. But in the New Testament the Promised Land is mostly used to describe a state of heart and mind. This does not preclude God leading us personally to a geographical location today in our lives. He very well might lead us to experience both in His process of fulfilling His plans and will in and through us. But while the material Land is important, the spiritual state of being it points us to is more important. The Land will pass away, our relationship with God will not. We should keep this in mind as we study on.
Much of the Old Testament is a "shadow" of things to come or a symbol of greater spiritually eternal truths (cf. Col. 2:16-17; Heb. 10:1). For instance the sacrificial lamb of the Old Testament is a type of Jesus. The Old Testament priest is symbolic of the priestly role of Jesus. The Temple symbolizes how we approach the most holy presence of God. The feast days speak to us about various redemptive events to come in Christ. And the Promised Land is symbolic of the Spirit filled abundant life we can have walking by faith in Jesus.
There are three conquests or approaches of the Promised Land for us to consider in our study. In the first approach, Abraham the man of faith, follows the Lord by faith into the Promised Land (Gen. 12-13). In the second approach, led by Moses, the people missed out on the Land because of unbelief (Numbers 13-14). In the third approach, led by Joshua, the people were able to enter the Land (Joshua 3-4). Importantly we are told in the New Testament that Moses is symbolic of the ways of the law and Joshua - whose name is closely associated with the name of Jesus - is a type of Jesus (cf. John 1:17). We don't enter the Promised Land by human efforts or works to keep laws. We enter the Promised Land by grace through faith in Jesus.
When we inductively look at these passages we find a great deal of important treasure truths about living a life in Christ that is filled with the presence and promise of God. When we look at these conquests we learn about how to identify God's Promised Land before us as well as how to enter it and live in it. You see there is a Promised Land place of "rest" to experience now in Christ (Hebrews 3 and 4). This is a place where we no longer live relying on our works. We do work in this Land. There are battles to be fought. There are tests and trials in this place. But it is a place where like our Forerunner Jesus we can be at peace even though storms are raging around us (e.g. Mark 4:38). This is not a rest of laziness or a lack of care as some might assume. It is a place, a state of mind and condition of the heart that is completely at rest in the Lord. It is a place of complete trust in the Lord; complete surrender to the Lord. It's a beautiful place and it is God's promise to us. So what is this Promised Land of rest and how do we enter into it?
First, God's promised land is revealed by Him to us. Abraham wasn't looking for a particular land to venture too. Abraham was minding his own business livin' the life. But God interrupted his life with a call to go to a land that He would show him (Gen. 12). God spoke this call to Abraham. God still speaks today. The Holy Spirit speaks to the human heart today (cf. Romans 8:26-27; 1 Cor. 2:9-16).
Later God would confirm the promise of His land to Abraham and his descendants by inspiring Moses to write words of God that contained opportunity for a covenant with God as well as a promised land. He speaks to us today through His word, by Jesus, by the Holy Spirit (Psalm 119; Hebrews 1:1-3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). God is speaking. God is calling. Are you listening?
Second, God's promised land calls us to respond in faith. This call to the Promised Land required faith from Abraham (e.g. Romans 4; Heb. 11). It required obedience and a willingness to sacrifice from Abraham. This obedient faith of Abraham reveals he was a man of faith who had a relationship with God. Abraham's faith suited him to be looked at by God and called to such a venture in faith. Abraham was living in a way that he was unaware such a call was coming, but nevertheless prepared him to follow such a call when it came. If we want to reach the Promised Land of God we will have to be alert, to be people who walk in faith and are ready to receive His revelation. How about you, how would you respond to an interruption of your life by God; to His call?
Third, God's promised land is a place He leads us to. God didn't give Abraham a five or ten year plan. God didn't give Abraham any old fashioned map or any modern GPS coordinates or address to the land. God simply said, "Get out," and "I will show you" the "land," the place "I want you to be." In the New Testament Jesus similarly called people to "Follow Me" (e.g. Mark 1:17). If you're going to reach the Promised Land you have to step out in faith and follow the Lord.
In this we learn from Abraham that if someone is ever to reach this destination of God their faith relationship with Him needs to be a current and constant. Abraham would have to walk with God, day by day, moment by moment, by faith. How's your walk with God, is it current, is it constant?
Fourth, God's promised land is a place He leads us too over time. Abraham would follow the Lord to the Promised Land of Canaan. He would live there. But life would lead his descendants from the land into an Egyptian bondage. Hundreds of years would pass before God's people would be brought again to the Land of God's promise. God's timetable is different from that of human beings. Human beings have a limited life span and so tend to rush through life. They have biological clocks and appointments to keep. God has divine appointments. But there are no clocks in eternity where the Eternal One resides. Therefore His sense of timing and scheduling is different and often conflicts with ours.
We tend to see God's timing as making us wait. God's timing makes us nervous. We frequently deal with God's prolonged timings by becoming anxious. This anxiety often leads us to succumb to the temptation to act in our own understanding. Abraham and his wife Sarah and future generations would learn this the hard way (cf. Gen. 16). Impatience leads to lunging out ahead of the Lord without the Lord. That is never a good thing. If we want to reach the Promised Land we need to remember God's timing is always right; it is always perfect; Gods' timing is always best.
Fifth, God's promised land is a place whose journey begins with deliverance. God called His people out of Egyptian bondage. The road to deliverance from Egypt led through a miraculously parted Red Sea. This was how their journey to the Promised Land began. Typologically, Egypt represents the enslavement in sin in the world. God calls us out of this and miraculously delivers us from this slavery. Passing through the Red Sea is a type of baptism. The journey to the Promised Land begins as we are saved from the slavery of sin and baptized into newness of life in Christ by the spiritual second birth of the Holy Spirit (e.g. John 3).
Sixth, God's promised land is a place which requires we cross wilderness to get to it. It was in the wilderness that God's people learned to depend on God. It was in the wilderness that God's people complained and rebelled revealing their fleshly sin nature ways. God's people had to be taught to follow Him, to depend on Him. The wilderness served this purpose. But God never intended them to remain in the wilderness. He always purposed to bring them through the wilderness.
After we've received Jesus as Savior and experienced the second birth there will be a time of spiritual growth where we need to learn to depend on God and walk with Him by faith. It will be a time with growing pains spiritually. While this is part of God's purpose for us, and we will always be growing in our walk with Him, He wants to bring us through this wilderness. God wants to bring us through to a better place. The saddest thing is when people choose to settle in the wilderness never growing in their faith and never continuing to pass into God's Promised Land. The wilderness is a place of settling for less, of fear, of struggle. Does that describe your walk with the Lord? Maybe He would have you move on with Him.
Seventh, God's promised land is a place He invites us to investigate. In Numbers 13 when Moses and the people of Israel have come through the wilderness God instructs Moses to select a "spy" from each tribe to go into and check out the Promised Land. Faith is never blind. Taking a "leap of faith" like Soren Kierkegaard coined is not scripturally sound advice. God called Abraham to follow Him. God didn't give Abraham a map or address to the Land but Abraham was not blindly following God. Abraham had the voice of the Lord, the presence of the Lord, and the unfolding evidence of God's working to guide his faith. Abraham was not blind to the fingerprints and footprints of God in his life.
Just as God invited Moses to send spies into the Land to confirm His truth and promise about the Land, we are invited by God to investigate His promises in His word as it plays out in life. God does keep some things secret. That is more for our protection and safety than any wrong intent on God's part. God has revealed what we need to know. And that is our part of His promise to us (cf. Deut. 29:29). God has invited us to investigate the truth about His Promised Land for our lives. If you aren't clear or are uncertain, do some investigation and research to see if God's promises are true. God invites you to do that. Go for it.
Eighth, God's promised land is a place of abundance. "Abundant" is probably the best way to describe God's Promised Land. When the spies returned they reported it was true, the Land "truly flows with milk and honey" (Num. 13:27). Jesus spoke of "abundant life" (John 10:10). Paul spoke of "exceedingly abundantly" (Eph. 3:20). Paul spoke of a strength in Jesus by which we could accomplish whatever God called us to do (Phil. 4:13). Peter spoke of "His divine power," by which we might be "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:3-4). John spoke of the possibility that "your joy may be full" (1 John 1:4), and being pure "as He is pure" (1 John 3:3), and of "perfect love" (1 John 2:5; 4:12, 17-18). We might not understand or have experienced all of that, but certainly it sounds like something abundantly wonderful! That is God's Promised Land for us.
Ninth, God's promised land is a place that involves temptations to be cowardly fearful and challenges to be courageously faithful. When the spies came back they all agreed that the Land of Promise was a place filled with abundance and blessing. But they also agreed, "Nevertheless, the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cites are fortified and very large. . . . The land . . . devours its inhabitants. . . all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw giants. . . and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight" (Num. 13:28, 32-33). There is evidence that the inhabitants of Canaan were indeed very large people. We know Jericho was a city with great walls. All of this was a true assessment. But the problem was how they resonded to these observable facts.
The Promised Land of God is not without adversaries and battles. It is a place of the presence of God in the midst of such adversaries and battles. That's why this is not a type of heaven. There are no more battles in heaven. But in the Promised Land state of being with God you are at rest as you battle and take ground. You are at rest as you trust in God to fight for you and provide for you. That's the difference. You are "more than a conqueror" (Romans 8:37-39). A conqueror enters battle, even bravely, even willing to give their life for the cause, but they are uncertain of the outcome. Someone who is "more than a conqueror" knows the outcome of the battle; is assured of the victory and fights on confidently, restfully, peacefully and courageously with this in mind and heart. That assuring certainty comes from their relationship with God and from His word. It's not a matter of whether or not there will be battles and trials and challenges in life. It's a matter of how you handle such things, or rather, how you surrender to God to handle such things. That's the difference. In the Promised Land you rest in His will.
Ten of the spies presented a "bad report" or discouraging report to the people (Num. 13:3). Their eyes were on the potential problems and the limitations of the people. Two however, Joshua and Caleb, presented the facts in light of the power and Person of God. These two said, "Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it. . . . If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, 'a land which flows with milk and honey.'"(Num. 13:30; 14:8). It was all a matter of perspective. Ten spies kept their eyes down and saw life without God. They were fools failing to factor God into their life equation(cf. Psalm 14:1ff.). Ten along with the majority of the people chose to be cowardly fearful. They turned away from trusting in God. It wasn't that the foes in the land weren't indeed fearsome. They probably were. But their small faith made them look like grasshoppers. These chose fear and their fear drove them to "rebel against the LORD" (Num. 14:9).
Two on the other hand looked at the life circumstances with God as the Greatest Factor. To them these formidable and real obstacles and enemies were "our bread." They knew, they believed, they trusted that God would help them gobble their enemies up and possess the Promised Land. They trusted in God's word. They chose faith. The others distrusted God. Joshua and Caleb chose to be courageously faithful. Because they trusted God and looked at life through His capabilities and resources they would have gone up against an army of King Kong's.
Tenth, God's promised land is a place that not everyone enters. The ten spies and the majority of the people who chose to fear and follow them all were disciplined by God by being barred from entering the Promised Land. Only Joshua and Caleb and the next generation of people would enter the Promised Land. Those who had "rebelled" against God and His Promise would wander in the wilderness until they died off.
The fearful faithless rebels would wander near forty years in a wilderness that some calculate should have taken them mere days to cross through. Those who choose to rebel against God in fear wander and spend their lives spinning their wheels. They never progress to where they should have been, could have been. Part of the discipline for such faithless rebellion is not only the lost opportunity of living in His Promise, but it is the conscious awareness and regret for such a faithless rebellion.
When God through Moses rebuked their unbelief and informed them of the consequence for their sin, it states, "the people mourned greatly" (Numbers 14:39). They even confessed and admitted their sin. Then they tried to right their wrong by trying to take the Land in their own strength. They failed miserably. That's because you can't enter or take the Promised Land by human strength. It isn't by our might or by our power but by the Spirit of God and His power that we enter the Land (Zech. 4:6). We can't and don't enter on our terms. To enter we must submit to Him.
Moses interceded on behalf of the people and God limited His discipline. With God "Mercy triumphs over judgment. . . . The Lord is very compassionate and merciful" (James 2:13; 5;12). God could have wiped out these rebels. But He did not. He did discipline them though. He did bar them from the Promised Land. They would lose this incredibly gracious opportunity and blessing of God. But thanks be to God we are no longer under law but under grace.
Today if we confess our sin God forgives us (1 John 1:9). The blood of Jesus is able to wash away our sins and keep us in fellowship with Him (1 John 1:7). James was inspired to write "Let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:20). If we repent of our faithlessness and humbly come before God, perhaps He will cover such sin and remember the words of His prophet through whom He said, "So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten" (Joel 2:25). God disciplines those He loves (Heb. 12). But the God of grace will give the repentant rebel grace too. Have faith. Seek God. Trust and obey. There is no other way. And there is always hope with the God of hope (Romans 15:4, 13).
It is this critical decision of faith or fear that Paul in Hebrews uses as a historical backdrop to illustrate the importance of trusting God and entering that state of rest in Him (Heb. 3-4). It is a magnificent eternal blessing to experience a second birth, a spiritual birth, forgiveness for our sins and eternal life in Christ with God. But that is only the beginning of a life Jesus described as abundant. How's your life in Christ? Would you describe it as abundant? Have you come to a crossroad where there is a formidable challenge before you. Are those fearsome challenges to your faith threatening to keep you from a promised land you just know God is calling you too? You have a choice to make. You can choose to be a foolish rebel grasshopper or step up in courageous faith into the glory of God's presence and provision. What's it going to be? Here's one last option for you to consider.
Lastly, God's promised land is a place we can enter by faith. When the faithless fearful rebellious generation died off and the mantel had been passed from Moses to Joshua, it was time to enter the Land. Joshua had big shoes to fill. He was Moses' successor. Moses was the preeminent leader of God's people to this point in history. This must have been intimidating to Joshua. The weight of responsibility for leading God's people into the Promised Land was on him. Joshua must have been tempted to fear. Why else would God repeatedly affirm him and encourage him to, "Be strong and of good courage" (Joshua 1:6, 7, 9).
God instructed Joshua, "This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success" (Joshua 1:9). Trust in God and obey His word. That was the key to entering God's Promised Land. And that's exactly what Joshua did. He instructed the priests to lead on with the Ark of the Covenant. To enter the Land they needed to cross the Jordan River when its' waters were at flood level. But by faith and in obedience to God the priests stepped into the rushing Jordan and the waters parted, just as the Red Sea had parted. And they entered in.
In Hebrews 4 Paul opens the chapter concluding, "Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it" (Heb. 4:1). If "a promise remains of entering His rest," then God must be speaking of a rest different from the original Old Testament crossing of the Jordan into the physical Promised Land. There is a rest of God for us today.
For those who might be confused or tempted to fear Paul, just like God did for Joshua, points us to "the word of God" which is "living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). Our sword for the battles of the Promised Land is the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God (cf. Eph. 6:17). This sword, while "sharper than any two-edged sword" is not for physical altercations. It should never be used to hack at others like an explorer hacks with a machete through thick underbrush. This sword of the Spirit is for battles in the heart over the Promised Land.
This living and powerful word of God used in the power of the Holy Spirit and according to the Commander of the Lord's armies Jesus (cf. Joshua 5) will help us when doubts, fears, temptations, threatening obstacles, trials, and anything else threatens us or presents itself as an opponent or obstacle of God's promised rest. I hope and pray by now you see this. It's not about us, it's about Him. Rest in Jesus. Rest in His work. Rest in His ways and will. Rest in His timing and place. Rest in His plans. Take a deep breath. Have faith. Trust Him currently and constantly. Grab your sword and get ready for battle. Get ready to step in and through the Jordan before you. "Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of the disobedient" (Heb. 4:11).
And don't ever forget these words as you journey to God's Promised Land for you: "Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:14-16). Jesus is with you. Trust in Jesus. Talk to Jesus. Lean on Jesus. Follow Jesus. By God's grace through faith in Jesus identify and enter God's Promised Land for you. Amen.