The Promise of God's Rest (Hebrews 4:1–11): Joshua, Jesus, Sabbath, and the Care of the Land

Hebrews 4:1-11 continues the rhetorical strategy of the letter by asserting the superiority of the Son to another key figure of the old covenant, Joshua. Specifically, the author asserts that the Israelites of Joshua’s day failed to enter God’s rest because of their disobedience, so that the promise of rest ostensibly given in terms of the land ultimately lay unfulfilled. The author contends that in the Son, the promise of entering God’s rest remains open to the present day, and that this rest is superior to that available through Joshua because it is connected with the Sabbath rest enjoyed by God since the conclusion of the works of creation. What the author of Hebrews has effectively done is both to spiritualize and eschatologize the promise of Joshua’s rest embodied in the land such that in Jesus the promise of rest is currently realized, to be realized in full in the eschaton. This is in keeping with the author’s anthropological and christological agendas throughout the letter. However, the voice of earth, in this context specifically the land, is heard through one of the scriptural citations proffered by the author in support of his argument (v. 4). The appeal to the establishment of Sabbath at the end of God’s creative work in Gen 2:2-3 allows for the voice of the land to assert for itself a place in the enjoyment of God’s rest, both in the present and in the eschaton. The land will appeal to traditions in the Hebrew Bible that demonstrate God’s concern for the land in terms of Sabbath observance. The resulting reading will be one that tempers the rhetorical concerns of the author, in which a denigration of the actual land is implied, with a call to expand the scope of God’s promised rest to include all creation.