- Locate the passage
There is a clear shift to the topic of “rest” which marks 4:1 as the beginning of a new section.
Considerable disagreement among commentators exists as to where this section terminates. Suggestions include v. 16, v. 14, v. 13, and v. 11. Most commentators conclude the section with v. 13. From a discourse perspective, it seems best to view 4:14 as the beginning of a new unit since it is paralleled with 10:19 which also begins a new unit. Both units begin with oun echontes “therefore having. . . .” A clear inclusio occurs with vv. 1 and 11 with the repetition of the hortatory subjunctives “let us fear” and “let us make every effort” and the semantic concept of “entering the rest.”
One might choose to include vv. 12-13 as a part of this passage, since verse 12 is introduced by the subordinating conjunction gar in Greek and provides the grounds for the exhortation to enter into rest. But given the length of Heb 4:1-11, I prefer to make a separate sermon out of 4:12-13, but I do so its close connection with what precedes.
Hebrews 4:1-11 is clearly hortatory. See the command forms in v. 1 and v. 11.
- Determine the structure of the passage
The unit is given cohesion by the repetition of the semantic concept of “entering the rest” in vv. 1, 3a, 3b, 5, 6, 10, and 11. The unit is further subdivided by two paragraphs: 1–5 and 6–11, both formed by inclusios: the concept of “entering rest” in v. 1 and v. 5, and the concept of “not entering because of disobedience” in v. 6 and v. 11. In both of these sub-paragraphs, part of Ps 95:7–11 is quoted.
Building on Heb 3:6–19, the focus in 4:1–11 is the need for perseverance, while the development of the “rest” motif in 4:3–10 is semantically subordinated to it. Hebrews 4:1–2 functions as transition and summary of 3:7–19 and 4:3–13.
- Exegete the passage
4:1 is introduced by oun, “Therefore,” indicating a conclusion based on the preceding verse. The events of the exodus generation are now applied to the readers’ present situation.
4:2 Hebrews 4:2 begins with kai gar, “for we also,” which places emphasis on the connection with the preceding thought. The point is not to contrast the exodus generation with the present readers. The kai gar serves to connote two things: (1) it states the promised rest is still available to the readers, and (2) it indicates the supporting reason for the exhortation in 4:1 to be careful.
Verse 3 is introduced by gar and can indicate the grounds for the preceding statement, or the grounds for the statement in 4:1.
4:4 introduces the grounds for the conclusion of v. 3.
4:6 The epei oun which begins v. 6, literally “since therefore,” v. 7 is actually the conclusion which is introduced by the oun in verse 6. Epei connects v. 6 closely with v. 5 as introducing the conclusion to the preceding argument (4:1-5) and implication of it.
4:8 Verse 8 is connected to the previous verse by gar, “for,” which introduces a contrary to fact condition and serves as the grounds for the preceding argument. The sense is “If Joshua had given. . . (which he didn’t), God would not have been speaking. . . (which he did).” The semantic relationship expressed by the conditional is perhaps best construed as giving the grounds and then drawing an inference: if Joshua had given them rest (ground), God would not have spoken about another day (inference)
4:9 Verse 9 begins with the inferential conjunction ara, “then,” or better, “consequently.” The author’s point is “on the basis of the argument (in vv. 6-8, or more likely the entire section, 1-8), we may safely infer, then, . . . .”
4:10 Verse 10 begins with gar, “for,” indicating the grounds for referring to God’s rest as a Sabbath rest in the previous verse. It is a further explanation of 4:9. “The one having entered” indicates action at the same time as the main verb “he has rested.”
4:11 Verse 11 concludes the paragraph begun in 4:1. “Therefore” introduces a conclusion by way of exhortation.
The hina clause, “so that,” can be taken as negative purpose of the preceding exhortation, or as negative result. The former would be translated something like “if you don’t press on to enter, you will fall.” The latter would be translated something like: “otherwise, one of you might fall.”
The phrase “by following their example of disobedience” can be taken in one of four ways: (1) it is taken by the NIV as meaning in imitation of Israel’s unbelief; (2) by means of the same kind of disobedience as Israel’s disobedience; (3) to fall into so as to be in the same kind of unbelief as Israel; (4) to perish in the same manner because of unbelief. The latter two options are the least likely. Of the former two options, the difference between them is negligible, but perhaps a slight edge should be given to option 1 since the author uses the word “example.” Semantically this clause is an illustration by comparison.
For more detailed exegetical data on this text, see Neva Miller, The Epistle to the Hebrews: An Analytical and Exegetical Handbook, 99-122; J. Harold Greenlee, Hebrews: An Exegetical Summary, 121-41; and David L. Allen, Hebrews, 270-84.
- Let the structure of the text drive the structure of the sermon.
The text itself is a unified whole, but there are two sub-paragraphs in the text. Both contain imperatival forms (vv. 1 and 11).
Thus, it would be best to structure the sermon into two halves:
The semantic weight falls on v. 1 in the first paragraph and on v. 11 in the second.