The chapters and verses you and I are used to seeing in our Bibles were put there by
- Cardinal Stephen Langton, who in 1205 created the chapter divisions which are used today and
- Robert Estienne (Robert Stephanus), who was the first to number the verses within each chapter, and his verse numbers entered printed editions in 1551 (New Testament) and 1571 (Hebrew Bible).
Accompanying these chapters and verses are headings put in by translation teams as further tools in organizing the material. You might notice that when I quote from the Bible I will give the citation at the end, but I remove the verses from the body of the text. I personally feel verses and chapters detract from understanding the text as it was originally presented.
That said, I think the first three chapters of Hebrews do make sense in how they are divided. Chapter 2 beings, “Therefore . . .” meaning, “Because we see the superiority and preeminence of Christ, here is our right doctrine.”
Chapter 3 also begins with “therefore,” followed by five directives guiding our response to hearing this teaching
Directive One: Follow Jesus as Preeminent Apostle and High Priest
Therefore, brothers and sisters, holy partners in a heavenly calling, consider that Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession . . .Hebrews 3:1 (NRSV)
We are to give our whole attention to Jesus as both apostle and high priest. Apostle means “sent one.” Jesus is the supreme apostle, being sent from the Father, something Jesus spoke of in all four gospels. Then, Jesus sent out His apostles as His own holy partners in a heavenly calling to be His representatives and spokesmen.
. . . was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses also “was faithful in all God’s house.”Hebrews 3:2 (NRSV)
Again, the writer turned to scripture to help his audience understand how foundational this is. When God took Aaron and Miriam to task for grumbling against Moses, God portrayed Moses as superior to all other prophets and leaders (including them).
[God] said, “Hear my words:
When there are prophets among you,Numbers 12:6-8 (NRSV)
I the Lord make myself known to them in visions;
I speak to them in dreams.
Not so with my servant Moses;
he is entrusted with all my house.
With him I speak face to face— clearly, not in riddles;
and he beholds the form of the Lord.
Jesus’ faithfulness is also preeminent, incomparable to any other.
But, the writer of Hebrews continued, do not mistake me. There is no comparison here to even Moses.
Yet Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.
Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later. Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son,
and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope.Hebrews 3:3-6 (NRSV)
|Sent by God to save the people from enslavement to Pharaoh||Sent by God to save people from enslavement to sin, corruption, and death (the domain of the devil)|
|To lead the people to the Promised Land||To lead people into the promised new heavens and earth, eternal shalom with God and creation|
|Through Moses the Law, the Tabernacle, the Levitical priesthood and practices||Christ is the true High Priest, in the true heavenly tabernacle, the true sacrifice, in Whom all the Law, Wisdom, and Prophets is fulfilled.|
|Epic leader who forged the Hebrew tribes into a nation||Preeminent God in and through whom a new people is brought forth into the Kingdom of God|
Moses was faithful to the house, but Jesus built the house, Moses was a servant, but Jesus was the Son.
Persevering is one of the hallmarks of faith. Just as Jesus is perfectly faithful, so also you and I – and everyone – in Jesus’ house remain faithful in the mighty wonder-working power of the Spirit of Christ.
Directive Two: Resist the Pull of the Past
The writer of Hebrews had already given a warning in chapter 2. Here is his second: Listen! Do not do today the same thing your forebears did in Moses’ time!
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Today, if you hear his voice,Hebrews 3:7-11 (NRSV)
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
as on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your ancestors put me to the test,
though they had seen my works for forty years.
Therefore I was angry with that generation,
and I said, ‘They always go astray in their hearts,
and they have not known my ways.’
As in my anger I swore,
‘They will not enter my rest.’”
For his text, the writer had now turned to Psalm 95:7-11.
This was exactly the pull the writer’s audience was feeling, the pull of their past, the pull of tradition, of what they and their fathers and mothers, and grandparents, and great grandparents had always known and done, had settled their faith in.
We all grow up with traditions and worldviews that go so deep you and I often do not even realize they are there. We also grow up with ways of processing and coping with what we experience that seem so true and right it goes without being said. These things can be so rooted within our hearts and minds that to consider turning from them and taking up a new way is in itself unsettling and distressing.
Recently I watched an amusing video that compared how those of Irish descent and those of German descent might respond to being offered a piece of cake. Very differently, it turns out!
The video highlights how deep our enculturation goes, it is not just a habit or a custom, but a way that has the emotional investment of seeming right.
The Hebrews had experienced bondage, enslavement, and harsh treatment in Egypt for generations. God meant to free them both physically, but also intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. God wanted them to become a new people whose view of themselves would be not as slaves but as a free and mighty people because of God, a rich and blessed people because of God, a beloved people by God.
But they did not trust God in spite of God’s patience and many proofs of goodness, love, and power.
Even as you and I read these words together, what might God be telling us about patterns (or ways of seeing things, or ways of coping) in our own lives?
- What not good, not healthy ways might you and I have brought with us from our childhoods, that now play out in our adult lives with others?
- In what ways might you and I be (even unwittingly) making the same mistakes our parents made?
- How might the way you and I grew up be hampering us from fully investing in the way of the Lord?
The pull of the past is real, all of us feel it, and like a strong but hidden current can cause our boat of faith to drift far from the way and the place of Jesus.