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Today’s Reading

Devotional: Hebrews 4

Hebrews 3:7–4:11 constitutes a sustained argument. We may briefly summarize what Hebrews 3:7–19 says and focus attention on Hebrews 4:1–11.

The author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 95:7–11 (Heb. 3:7–11), which finds the Holy Spirit (Heb. 3:7), the ultimate author of Scripture, saying, in effect, “Today do not harden your heart as your forefathers did at Kadesh Barnea, when they first approached the Promised Land. The majority of the spies gave a faithless report, with the consequence that the covenant people spent the next forty years wandering around the desert instead of entering into the rest that had been promised them. But today, do not make the same mistake. If you hear the voice of God, believe and obey—unlike the response of your forefathers.” The very people whom God had saved from slavery were the ones he condemned to wander and die in the desert. So today the people of God should persevere in their faith and obedience, and not tumble into the unbelief (Heb. 3:19) of their ancestors.

So far the argument is one of analogy. Hebrews 4 takes it much farther. If God is still offering rest to people in the time of Psalm 95, it follows that the rest provided by the Promised Land was never meant to be the ultimate rest. For Joshua did lead the people into the land, yet “if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day” (Heb. 4:8). Moreover, when God swears in his anger that the generation at Kadesh Barnea will never enter into “my rest” (Ps. 95:11; Heb. 3:11; 4:3), the thoughtful reader must ask what this “rest” of God really is. God first “rests” at the end of creation week (Gen. 2:2). That becomes a model for the covenantal Sabbath-rest. Yet neither the Sabbath-rest nor the rest in the Promised Land constitute the ultimate rest, for here in Psalm 95, “a long time later” (Heb. 4:7), God still invites people to enter his rest, on the condition of persevering faith (Heb. 4:2, 11).

The ultimate rest, the writer of Hebrews insists, can only be the Gospel, in which men and women cease from their works (as God rested from his at Creation). All of this argumentation depends on reading the Bible in its salvation-historical progression, that is, reading it sequentially along its story-line and observing how the bits not only hang together but point forward and anticipate greater things to come. The argument is not one of analogy but of typology. That is what is calling us to persevering faith and obedience; that is part of what makes the word of God living, active, and penetrating (Heb. 4:12–13).

Devotional: Numbers 6

The Nazirite Vow (Num. 6) could be taken by any man or woman (i.e., not just a Levite) and was entirely voluntary. It was normally undertaken for an extended period of time, and culminated in certain prescribed offerings and sacrifices (6:13-21).

The vow itself was designed to separate someone out for the Lord (6:2, 5-8), a kind of voluntary self-sacrifice. Perhaps it was marked by special service or meditation, but that was not the formal, observable side of the Nazirite vow. The Nazirite was to mark out his or her vow by three abstinences. (1) For the duration of the vow, his or her hair was not to be cut. This was so much a mark of the individual’s separation to God that when the vow came to an end, the hair that had grown throughout the duration of the vow was to be cut off and burned in the fellowship offering (6:18). (2) The Nazirite was to keep out of contact with corpses. That could mean real hardship if, for instance, a relative died during the period of the vow. If someone suddenly died in the presence of a Nazirite, the inevitable defilement, which could be construed as defiling the hair that he had dedicated (6:9), had to be removed by prescribed ritual and sacrifice, including shaving off the defiled hair (6:9-12). (3) In addition, the Nazirite was to abstain from all alcohol until the termination of the vow (6:3, 20). This too was something of a privation, for wine was a common drink, not least at the great festivals. (It was common to “cut” wine with water, from between three parts water to one part wine, to ten parts water to one part wine, which made it about the strength of beer.)

The symbolism is reasonably transparent. (1) That which is holy belongs exclusively to the Lord and his use (like the laver or the ephod). The symbol was the hair, dedicated to the Lord and therefore not cut until it was offered in sacrifice. (2) That which is holy belongs to the living God, not to the realm of death and decay, which arise from the horror of sin. So the Nazirites were to abstain from coming into contact with dead persons. (3) That which is holy finds its center and delight in God. It does not need the artificial “high” of alcohol; still less does it want to be controlled by anyone or anything other than God himself.

How, then, shall members of the new covenant, in their call to be holy, dedicate themselves wholly to God, avoid all that belongs to the realm of death, and be slaves to no one and nothing save Jesus?

Related Resources

What’s the Difference Between Erotica and Song of Solomon?

Solomon teaches us that the most ravishing beauty is a consequence of desperate love, that the beloved is so beautiful precisely because she is so loved.

Numbers 6

The Nazirite Vow

6:1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite,1 to separate himself to the LORD, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation2 he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.

“All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the LORD, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long.

“All the days that he separates himself to the LORD he shall not go near a dead body. Not even for his father or for his mother, for brother or sister, if they die, shall he make himself unclean, because his separation to God is on his head. All the days of his separation he is holy to the LORD.

“And if any man dies very suddenly beside him and he defiles his consecrated head, then he shall shave his head on the day of his cleansing; on the seventh day he shall shave it. 10 On the eighth day he shall bring two turtledoves or two pigeons to the priest to the entrance of the tent of meeting, 11 and the priest shall offer one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, and make atonement for him, because he sinned by reason of the dead body. And he shall consecrate his head that same day 12 and separate himself to the LORD for the days of his separation and bring a male lamb a year old for a guilt offering. But the previous period shall be void, because his separation was defiled.

13 “And this is the law for the Nazirite, when the time of his separation has been completed: he shall be brought to the entrance of the tent of meeting, 14 and he shall bring his gift to the LORD, one male lamb a year old without blemish for a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb a year old without blemish as a sin offering, and one ram without blemish as a peace offering, 15 and a basket of unleavened bread, loaves of fine flour mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and their grain offering and their drink offerings. 16 And the priest shall bring them before the LORD and offer his sin offering and his burnt offering, 17 and he shall offer the ram as a sacrifice of peace offering to the LORD, with the basket of unleavened bread. The priest shall offer also its grain offering and its drink offering. 18 And the Nazirite shall shave his consecrated head at the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall take the hair from his consecrated head and put it on the fire that is under the sacrifice of the peace offering. 19 And the priest shall take the shoulder of the ram, when it is boiled, and one unleavened loaf out of the basket and one unleavened wafer, and shall put them on the hands of the Nazirite, after he has shaved the hair of his consecration, 20 and the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the LORD. They are a holy portion for the priest, together with the breast that is waved and the thigh that is contributed. And after that the Nazirite may drink wine.

21 “This is the law of the Nazirite. But if he vows an offering to the LORD above his Nazirite vow, as he can afford, in exact accordance with the vow that he takes, then he shall do in addition to the law of the Nazirite.”

Aaron's Blessing

22 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

24   The LORD bless you and keep you;
25   the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26   the LORD lift up his countenance3 upon you and give you peace.

27 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

Footnotes

[1] 6:2 Nazirite means one separated, or one consecrated
[2] 6:4 Or Naziriteship
[3] 6:26 Or face

(ESV)

Resources

What’s the Difference Between Erotica and Song of Solomon?

Solomon teaches us that the most ravishing beauty is a consequence of desperate love, that the beloved is so beautiful precisely because she is so loved.

Psalms 40-41

My Help and My Deliverer

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

40:1   I waited patiently for the LORD;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
  He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,
  and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
  He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
  Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the LORD.
  Blessed is the man who makes
    the LORD his trust,
  who does not turn to the proud,
    to those who go astray after a lie!
  You have multiplied, O LORD my God,
    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
    none can compare with you!
  I will proclaim and tell of them,
    yet they are more than can be told.
  In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
    but you have given me an open ear.1
  Burnt offering and sin offering
    you have not required.
  Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
    in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
  I delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.”
  I have told the glad news of deliverance2
    in the great congregation;
  behold, I have not restrained my lips,
    as you know, O LORD.
10   I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
  I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation.
11   As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain
    your mercy from me;
  your steadfast love and your faithfulness will
    ever preserve me!
12   For evils have encompassed me
    beyond number;
  my iniquities have overtaken me,
    and I cannot see;
  they are more than the hairs of my head;
    my heart fails me.
13   Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me!
    O LORD, make haste to help me!
14   Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
    who seek to snatch away my life;
  let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
    who delight in my hurt!
15   Let those be appalled because of their shame
    who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”
16   But may all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you;
  may those who love your salvation
    say continually, “Great is the LORD!”
17   As for me, I am poor and needy,
    but the Lord takes thought for me.
  You are my help and my deliverer;
    do not delay, O my God!

O Lord, Be Gracious to Me

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

41:1   Blessed is the one who considers the poor!3
    In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him;
  the LORD protects him and keeps him alive;
    he is called blessed in the land;
    you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.
  The LORD sustains him on his sickbed;
    in his illness you restore him to full health.4
  As for me, I said, “O LORD, be gracious to me;
    heal me,5 for I have sinned against you!”
  My enemies say of me in malice,
    “When will he die, and his name perish?”
  And when one comes to see me, he utters empty words,
    while his heart gathers iniquity;
    when he goes out, he tells it abroad.
  All who hate me whisper together about me;
    they imagine the worst for me.6
  They say, “A deadly thing is poured out7 on him;
    he will not rise again from where he lies.”
  Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
    who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
10   But you, O LORD, be gracious to me,
    and raise me up, that I may repay them!
11   By this I know that you delight in me:
    my enemy will not shout in triumph over me.
12   But you have upheld me because of my integrity,
    and set me in your presence forever.
13   Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
    from everlasting to everlasting!
      Amen and Amen.

Footnotes

[1] 40:6 Hebrew ears you have dug for me
[2] 40:9 Hebrew righteousness; also verse 10
[3] 41:1 Or weak
[4] 41:3 Hebrew you turn all his bed
[5] 41:4 Hebrew my soul
[6] 41:7 Or they devise evil against me
[7] 41:8 Or has fastened

(ESV)

Song of Songs 4

Solomon Admires His Bride's Beauty

He

4:1   Behold, you are beautiful, my love,
    behold, you are beautiful!
  Your eyes are doves
    behind your veil.
  Your hair is like a flock of goats
    leaping down the slopes of Gilead.
  Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
    that have come up from the washing,
  all of which bear twins,
    and not one among them has lost its young.
  Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
    and your mouth is lovely.
  Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
    behind your veil.
  Your neck is like the tower of David,
    built in rows of stone;1
  on it hang a thousand shields,
    all of them shields of warriors.
  Your two breasts are like two fawns,
    twins of a gazelle,
    that graze among the lilies.
  Until the day breathes
    and the shadows flee,
  I will go away to the mountain of myrrh
    and the hill of frankincense.
  You are altogether beautiful, my love;
    there is no flaw in you.
  Come with me from Lebanon, my bride;
    come with me from Lebanon.
  Depart2 from the peak of Amana,
    from the peak of Senir and Hermon,
  from the dens of lions,
    from the mountains of leopards.
  You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride;
    you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes,
    with one jewel of your necklace.
10   How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!
    How much better is your love than wine,
    and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!
11   Your lips drip nectar, my bride;
    honey and milk are under your tongue;
    the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.
12   A garden locked is my sister, my bride,
    a spring locked, a fountain sealed.
13   Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates
    with all choicest fruits,
    henna with nard,
14   nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon,
    with all trees of frankincense,
  myrrh and aloes,
    with all choice spices—
15   a garden fountain, a well of living water,
    and flowing streams from Lebanon.
16   Awake, O north wind,
    and come, O south wind!
  Blow upon my garden,
    let its spices flow.

Together in the Garden of Love

She

  Let my beloved come to his garden,
    and eat its choicest fruits.

Footnotes

[1] 4:4 The meaning of the Hebrew word is uncertain
[2] 4:8 Or Look

(ESV)

Hebrews 4

4:1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.1 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,

  “As I swore in my wrath,
  ‘They shall not enter my rest,’”

although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said,

  “They shall not enter my rest.”

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

  “Today, if you hear his voice,
  do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God2 would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Jesus the Great High Priest

14 Since then 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 is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Footnotes

[1] 4:2 Some manuscripts it did not meet with faith in the hearers
[2] 4:8 Greek he

(ESV)