Hebrews 4:9, the sabbatismos or rest which the saints were to enter – a clarification of its actual nature

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Casual bible-readers could easily misunderstand Hebrews 4:9. This is because many bible-versions, especially “modern” ones, add words to that verse and render it in confusing ways.

The AKJV has in that verse the wording “there remains therefore a rest to the people of God”, which is a correct translation of the Greek text. The word “rest” occurs in several verses in the context, chapters 3 and 4; they will be considered later. – Here is the passage which the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews was quoting and explaining:

Psalms 95:7 […] To day if you will hear his voice, 8 Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness: 9 When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work. 10 Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: 11 To whom I swore in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest. (AKJV, highlighting added)

That is the passage which Hebrews 3 and 4 refer to.

The apostle was warning the Jewish saints, in regard to a certain matter. (Here, it is assumed that it was the apostle Paul who wrote or dictated the letter to the “Hebrews”, saints of Jewish descent.)

Those who are familiar with the Old Testament, know that those words in Psalms 95:11, “I swore in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest”, refer to what happened in the days of Moses when the ancient Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, Numbers 14. Those people rejected the place of rest where the Lord was taking them (the Promised Land), and they even rejected the Lord, and said, “let us select a leader and return to Egypt” (Numbers 14:4, NKJV). Because of this, they were never allowed to enter the land of promise. Instead, they had to stay in the Arabian desert until they died – their “bodies fell in the desert”, Hebrews 3:17, HCSB. Only their children were allowed to enter the Promised Land, forty years later.

Hebrews 3 and 4: The apostle was explaining to the Jewish saints whom he wrote to, how the words of psalm 95 had a bearing on their own situation. He warned them and urged them to be wiser than their ancestors had been.

This article takes a closer look at the in Hebrews 3 and 4 mentioned rest which the saints were to enter. (In the Greek text, the relevant words are katapausis and sabbatismos. There is more on those words, a bit later.) This article clarifies the actual nature of the “rest” which is mentioned in Hebrews 3:11 and 18 and 4:1, 3, 5, 8, 9, 10 and 11. Those who carefully read all of those verses (they are cited later in this article), will see that they refer to a place of rest – a Promised Land.

Please note that the above-mentioned verses in Hebrews 3 and 4, and Psalms 95:7–11 which the apostle was quoting, talk about entering a “rest” – or, not being allowed to enter which is what happened to the ancient Israelites, as is recorded in Numbers 13 and 14.

The story connected to Hebrews 4:9 begins in Hebrews 3.

Before going to Hebrews 4, let us first consider Hebrews 3. For, the story begins there. When one has read chapter 3, and the above-quoted Psalms 95:7–11, it is easier to understand what the word “rest” in Hebrews 4:9 really means and refers to.

The apostle Paul was admonishing the Jewish saints. He used the fate of their ancestors as a warning example. He urged those saints to make sure that they would not “fall in the desert”, the way their ancestors had done. Again, he was quoting Psalms 95:7–11, which in its turn refers to what is recorded in Numbers 13 and 14. The context and several other details will be discussed later; let us first read the passage in question. As you read the scripture-quote below, note the words “rest” and “enter”, and that they refer to a place of rest – a land.

(Clarification: In the case of the ancient Israelites, that place of rest was the earthly Promised Land. In the saints’ case, it was the better land which is mentioned in Hebrews 11. There is more on this, a bit later.)

Hebrews 3:7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you will hear His voice, 8 do not harden your hearts, as in the provocation[a] in the day of temptation in the wilderness, 9 when your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My works forty years. 10 Therefore I was grieved with that generation and said, They always err in their heart, and they have not known My ways. 11 So I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter into My rest.” [b] 12 Take heed, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. 13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, 15 while it is said, “Today if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.” [a] 16 For some, when they had heard, did provoke; however, not all who came out of Egypt by Moses. 17 But with whom was He grieved forty years? Was it not with those who had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did He swear that they should not enter into His rest, but to those who did not believe? 19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Hebrews 4:1 Therefore, a promise being left to enter into His rest, let us fear lest any of you should seem to come short of it. [c] (MKJV, highlighting and note signs added)

a Hebrews 3:8 and 15, “as in the provocation” – the Greek text has ôs en tô parapikrasmô, “as in the embitterment”, cited from Psalms 95:8 (94:8) where the Greek text of the Septuagint version (LXX) has exactly the same wording. Hebrews 3 and Psalms 95 refer to an event in the days of Moses, recorded in Numbers 13 and 14. The Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land. Moses sent twelve men to spy it out. Ten of those men gave a bad, discouraging report. This caused the Israelites to reject both the Promised Land as well as the Lord who was about to take them there. They wanted to replace the Lord with a mortal leader who would take them back to Egypt, Numbers 14:4. Two of the twelve spies, Joshua and Caleb, tried to prevent that madness, but could not, Numbers 14:6–10.

b Hebrews 3:11 – the words “so I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter my rest” refer to the solemn declaration which is recorded in Numbers 14:21–23. In this context, the word “rest” refers to the Promised Land. See also the use of that word in Deuteronomy 12:9, for instance in the NKJV. The same applies to Psalms 95:7–11 and a number of verses in Hebrews 3 and 4.

Again, the “provocation in the wilderness” which is mentioned in Psalms 95:7 and Hebrews 3:8 and 15, was the occasion when the Israelites in the days of Moses rejected the Promised Land as well as the Lord who was about to take them there. This led to that those Israelites who were of mature age during that provocation, were not allowed to enter the land of promise. The whole nation had to stay in the Arabian desert, for forty years, until the provokers had died.

The apostle drew an analogy between that ancient event, and the Jewish saints’ own situation. He urged them not to reject the heavenly Promised Land or the Lord Jesus who was about to take them there. He used their ancestors’ fate as a warning example in that regard. (Yes, the Bible does talk about a heavenly Promised Land, for the saints. The article nba040.htm contains a study on what the Scriptures say about Heaven.)

A note: In this article, the word “saints” refers to those who received the Holy Spirit in biblical times, first century CE or earlier.

c Hebrews 4:1 – the wording in the above-quoted MKJV might be a bit hard to understand. The HCSB renders that particular verse in a clearer way:

Hebrews 4:1 Therefore, while the promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear so that none of you should miss it. (HCSB)

A clarification of that verse and its context: It is true that the promise about entering a rest was fulfilled in the days of Joshua when the Israelites finally entered the earthly Promised Land. But the apostle Paul, who was quoting psalm 95, noted that there nevertheless remained a promise regarding entering a rest – another rest, which is to say, another land, a better land. Consider this passage:

Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and went out to a place he was going to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, co-heirs of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith even Sarah herself, when she was barren, received power to conceive offspring, even though she was past the age, since she considered that the One who had promised was faithful. 12 And therefore from one man—in fact, from one as good as dead—came offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as innumerable as the grains of sand by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. 14 Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been remembering that land they came from, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But they now aspire to a better land—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (HCSB, highlighting added)

If you read all of that passage with care, then you saw that already certain faithful people of old times knew that the earthly Promised Land was not the ultimate one. They knew of better things to come, and looked forward to a city “whose architect and builder is God”, verse 10 – the City of God, in the “better land, a heavenly one”, verse 16.

The apostle also mentioned “another day”:

Hebrews 4:8 For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken later about another day. (HCSB, highlighting added)

That is, a rest which was to be entered, not in the days of Joshua whom that verse mentions but at another time.

There is more on this, later in this article.

The story which began in Hebrews 3, continues in chapter 4.

Even in Hebrews 4, we see that the apostle repeatedly wrote about “entering” and “rest”. Now, before going to chapter 4, let us read the last verses of chapter 3 one more time. It is good to get the context fully clear.

Hebrews 3:12 Take heed, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. 13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, 15 while it is said, “Today if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.” 16 For some, when they had heard, did provoke; however, not all who came out of Egypt by Moses. 17 But with whom was He grieved forty years? Was it not with those who had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? (MKJV)

Verse 12, “an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God”. Again, the apostle was making an analogy. He reminded the Jewish saints about what happened to their ancestors who rejected the Promised Land and the Lord who was about to take them there. Those people were not allowed to enter the promised rest (land). Even verses 16–17 refer to this. The wording in verse 15 is taken from Psalms 95:7–8 which was cited earlier.

The apostle wrote that letter to some Jewish saints, in the first century. The word “today” (Hebrews 3:15 and 4:7, cited from Psalms 95:7) referred to those saints’ own day and situation.

Keeping in mind the context (the above-quoted verses in Hebrews 3), let us now consider chapter 4. Please note that it talks about entering a rest. Again: That rest is a place.

Hebrews 4:1 Therefore, a promise being left to enter into His rest, let us fear lest any of you should seem to come short of it. 2 For also the gospel was preached to us, as well as to them. But the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. 3 For we who have believed do enter into the rest, as He said, “I have sworn in My wrath that they should not enter into My rest;” although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For He spoke in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested the seventh day from all His works.” 5 And in this place again, “They shall not enter into My rest.” 6 Since then it remains that some must enter into it, and since they to whom it was first preached did not enter in because of unbelief, 7 He again marks out a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” (after so long a time). Even as it is said, “Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. 9 So then there remains a rest to the people of God. 10 For he who has entered into his rest, he also has ceased from his own works, as God did from His. 11 Therefore let us labor to enter into that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of unbelief. (MKJV)

Some people might find parts of the above-quoted Hebrews 4:1–11 hard to understand. The apostle Paul wrote that letter to Jewish saints, people of the first century. They understood that he was talking about events in the days of Moses and Joshua. But, even some of them may have had difficulties with understanding all details in Paul’s complicated wordings and analogies and OT quotes. Certain points in that passage will be clarified in this article; read on.

Verse 4: The reason why the apostle in this context mentioned the Lord’s act of resting on the seventh day, is considered later in this article. The same, regarding the words “afterward” and “another day” in verse 8.

Verse 9: The above-quoted MKJV has “so then there remains a rest to the people of God”, which is a correct translation. But, some translators have added words and changed things and made it to “there remains a keeping of a sabbath”, “there remains a day of rest”, or similar. This has confused and misled many people. The Greek text of verse 9 has sabbatismos, a Hebrew-Greek word construction which simply meant “a rest”. There is more on this under the next heading, but right here it is enough to note that multiple verses in Hebrews 3 and 4 make it clear that the apostle spoke about a place of rest, and entering that place.

Verse 11: Again, the words “lest anyone fall after the same example of unbelief” refer to what is mentioned in Hebrews 3:17, “whose bodies fell in the desert”. This was regarding the ancient Israelites who turned their backs on the earthly Promised Land, Numbers 13 and 14.

On the words katapausis and sabbatismos in the Greek text of Hebrews 3 and 4.

The noun katapausis is found in 8 passages in the Greek text of the New Testament – Acts 7:49 and Hebrews 3:11 and 18 and 4:1, 3, 5, 8, 10 and 11.

In this context, the apostle Paul used the word katapausis in the meaning “rest”, and referred to a place of rest. The word katapausis occurs also in several passages in the Greek text of the Septuagint version (LXX), among them Psalms 95:11 (94:11) which is what the apostle was quoting, Hebrews 3 and 4.

In the Greek text of Hebrews 4:9, the word for “rest” is the Hebrew-Greek word construction sabbatismos. It is a combination of the Hebrew verb shabath, “to rest”, and the Greek suffix -mos which in this kind of context corresponds to the English suffix -ing. In short: That specially constructed noun sabbatismos in Hebrews 4:9 simply means “resting” – that is, “a rest” – the same as the above-mentioned Greek noun katapausis in Hebrews 3:11 and 18 and 4:1, 3, 5, 8, 10 and 11. And, as was noted earlier, those verses refer to a place of rest.

The rest of Hebrew 4:9 is the same rest which is mentioned in verses 1 and 11 and which the saints were to enter.

Hebrews 4:1 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. […] 11 Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. (AKJV)

See also Hebrews 3:11 and 18 and 4:3, 5, 8 and 10 which refer to not being allowed to enter a rest (a promised land).

In all simplicity: The “rest” which is mentioned in Hebrews 4:9, is a heavenly counterpart of the earthly Promised Land. Again, Paul cited Psalms 95:7–11 for the purpose of urging the Jewish saints to be wiser than their ancestors who were not allowed to enter their land of promise.

Hebrews 4:8, ‘for if Joshua had given them rest’.

A note: Some bible-versions have “Jesus” in Hebrews 4:8. This refers to Joshua the son of Nun whose name is spelled Iêsous in the Greek text of that verse.

Again, Paul was explaining to the Jewish saints that their ancestors’ entry into the earthly Promised Land was not the ultimate thing. We read:

Hebrews 4:8 For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. (MKJV)

In that verse, the word “He” refers to God (who inspired the psalm-writer David). The meaning of the phrases “afterward” and “another day” is clarified under the next heading.

We know that Joshua actually did take the ancient Israelites (the children of those who died in the desert) to their inheritance and rest, which was the earthly Promised Land. But, that was not the ultimate and better inheritance and rest which was in store for the saints. Paul noted, “So then there remains a rest to the people of God” (verse 9, MKJV).

As was noted earlier, multiple passages in Hebrews 3 and 4, including this verse, refer to a place of rest. A Promised Land. For the ancient Israelites it was an earthly land, but for the saints it was a heavenly Promised Land. Again, consider this passage:

Hebrews 11:16 But they now aspire to a better land—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (HCSB, highlighting added)

The meaning of the words ‘he would not afterward have spoken of another day’, Hebrews 4:8.

(“Another day”, or “another time” as the Greek text also can be translated.)

We read:

Hebrews 4:8 For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. 9 So then there remains a rest to the people of God. (MKJV)

Verse 8, “afterward” and “spoken of another day” – exactly what “speaking”, and by whom and when, did the apostle Paul refer to?

The answer is found in Paul’s words in the previous chapter, “as the Holy Spirit says”, Hebrews 3:7. In short: Paul referred to what God had spoken through the psalmist David, by inspiring him through his Holy Spirit. Paul was citing what David had written; Hebrews 3:7–11 and 4:3 contain citations from psalm 95. Here is Paul’s quote in chapter 3, along with the Psalms passage which he quoted:

Hebrews 3:7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you will hear His voice, 8 do not harden your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness, 9 when your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My works forty years. 10 Therefore I was grieved with that generation and said, They always err in their heart, and they have not known My ways. 11 So I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter into My rest.” (MKJV, highlighting added)Psalms 95:7 […] Today if you will hear His voice, 8 harden not your heart, as in the day of strife, as in the day of testing in the wilderness; 9 when your fathers tempted Me, tested Me, and saw My work. 10 For forty years I was grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people who go astray in their hearts, and they have not known My ways; 11 to whom I swore in My wrath that they should not enter into My rest. (MKJV, highlighting added)

A note: The Byzantine Greek text of Hebrews 3:7–11 is almost word for word the same as what the Septuagint (LXX) has in Psalms 95:7–11. (In the Septuagint, that psalm is given number 94.)

So, the meaning of Paul’s mention of God “speaking afterward”, Hebrews 4:8, was that God spoke through the psalmist David, several hundred years after Joshua had taken the Israelites to their promised rest. And still, Psalms 95:7–11 was written as if it referred to something that had not yet happened when David wrote that psalm. “Today, if you will hear His voice.” – In short: Paul was explaining to the saints whom he was writing to, that the word “today” in Psalms 95:7–11 could be seen as referring to their own day and age. In the first century.

Again, Paul was warning the Jewish saints, urging them not to turn their backs on the heavenly Promised Land or the Lord Jesus who was taking them there. He reminded them of what happened to their ancestors in the desert, in the days of Moses. We read:

Hebrews 4:1 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. […] 11 Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. (AKJV)

When Paul wrote that letter, those saints were close to entering the Promised Land in Heaven, [d] just as their ancestors had been close to entering the earthly Promised Land when the provocation or “embitterment” of Numbers 14 took place. So, for the Jewish saints whom Paul wrote to, the phrases “another day” (Hebrews 4:8) and “today” (Hebrews 3:7, 13 and 15 and 4:7) pointed to their own day and situation. In other words, Paul was simply saying that Psalms 95:7–11 could be seen as a warning directed to them. They were not to reject the heavenly Promised Land or the Lord who was about to take them there.

d The fact that those saints were time-wise close to entering that heavenly land, is explained in the article nga040.htm.

What about the rest which is mentioned in the Decalogue?

Some might wonder, “Well, if Hebrews 4:9 is not about the Sabbath, then what about the weekly day of rest which is mentioned in the Decalogue?”

The purpose of this present article is merely to show that the rest of Hebrews 4:9 is a place, a Promised Land in Heaven. The “Sabbath question” is discussed in other articles at this site. The article nca050.htm considers the matter of the Decalogue.

Why did the apostle Paul mention the Lord’s act of resting on the seventh day, Hebrews 4:3–4?

Earlier, it was shown that the rest of Hebrews 4:9 was a place of rest and not a day of rest. The apostle was talking about entering a (place of) rest. That is, a Promised Land in Heaven.

So, why did Paul in that connection mention the Lord’s act of resting on the seventh day? The answer to that question is found in that same letter. But first, let us read the passage which Paul was indirectly citing.

Genesis 2:1 So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. 2 On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. (NLT04, highlighting added)

Then, let us consider Hebrews 4:3–4, as the KJV1769 and the NLT04 render that passage. They interpret those two verses in a similar way, but the clear and simple language in the paraphrase version NLT04 can make this matter easier to understand.

Hebrews 4:3 […] although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. (KJV1769, highlighting added)

Hebrews 4:3 […] even though this rest has been ready since he made the world. 4 We know it is ready because of the place in the Scriptures where it mentions the seventh day: “On the seventh day God rested from all his work.” (NLT04, highlighting added)

A careful comparison of Genesis 2:1–2 and Hebrews 4:3–4, taking into account the wider context in Hebrews chapters 3 and 4, leads to the conclusion that it appears that the apostle Paul mentioned the Lord’s act of resting (after he had finished his work), for the purpose of noting that the place of rest which God had in store for the saints – the heavenly Promised Land – was ready, and waiting for them to enter it. And so, he urged the Jewish saints whom he was writing to:

Hebrews 4:1 Therefore let us be on our guard lest perhaps, while He still leaves us a promise of being admitted to His rest, some one of you should be found to have fallen short of it. […] 11 Let it then be our earnest endeavour to be admitted to that rest, so that no one may perish through following the same example of unbelief. (WEY)

In short: The apostle was urging the Jewish saints not to be as stupid as their ancestors had been (those who died in the desert). He told those saints to make sure that they would be allowed to enter the rest which God had in store for them – the better Promised Land in Heaven. God had made it ready, and it was waiting for them.

The article nba040.htm has more on what the Scriptures have to say about Heaven.

See also the “recommended reading” section, below.

Please send or mention the address to this site to others. You can also link to these pages. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/articles.htm

Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm

What does the Bible say about Heaven? Were the saints to go there? What about others? What does it look like, in Heaven? → nba040.htm

What happened to the saints? Why is there no record of their doings, after the middle of the first century? → nga040.htm

On the Decalogue, “the words of the covenant, the ten words”. → nca050.htm

Covenant signs, including the sign of the New Covenant which shows who are God’s people. → nca070.htm

Worshipping God. What does the Bible say about worship, in connection with the New Covenant? → naa040.htm

The New Covenant is indeed something new, and not a “renewal” or “modification” of the Old Covenant. → nca090.htm

Should the Old Covenant’s Sabbaths, the annual ones and the weekly one, be kept today? → nxa090.htm


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