THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS - PART V
MOSES AS A PREPARATION FOR JESUS
I. Chapter 3 and the next section begins with a connection to the idea that we are brothers of Christ, who is the full Son of God.
A. He begins by addressing the readers as "holy brothers," fulfilling the theme of the last section, i.e., that Jesus as the faithful high priest made us all in the family of God and that His holiness is conferred upon us. See, e.g., Rom. 14:10-21, 1 Cor. 8:11-15; 2 Thess. 3:15; 1 John 3:10-17.
- The word "holy"
(agioi, sancti in Latin in Greek) could as a noun also mean saints,
and is a common way of St. Paul in referring to the faithful people
of God. See, e.g., Rom. 15:25-26. At other times, St. Paul refers
to sainthood as something we are called to. See Romans 1:7; 1
Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:18. And likewise here the letter says that we
are united above all else in this "heavenly calling."
- The term "heavenly
calling" likely means both a calling from heaven from heaven and a
calling to heaven. It basically emphasizes the crucial nature
of the call to discipleship. If one is to be loyal and dedicated
even to an earthly kingdom, surely all the more to a divine one.
B. The letter then refers to Jesus as "the apostle and high priest of our confession."
- This section n Moses
will deal more with Jesus as the great apostle (i.e., one who is sent
forth), while the next section will describe Jesus as the great high
priest accomplishing what the Levitical priesthood could only signify.
- Moses was not a high priest; rather, his brother Aaron received that office, although Moses was certainly involved in conveying it. But more than any other Old Testament figure, except possibly Abraham was sent forth to save God's people.
- The letter uses a
term ordinary reserved for the ones Jesus sent forth. The idea
is that Jesus was also sent forth by the Father, although He is also
God as the passage will indicate. Thus, Jesus gives us the model
of ministry and apostleship.
C. The letter states how it is that Moses is a model of fidelity, but Jesus is greater still.
1. Moses was honored as the faithful prophet and leader of God above all else. See, e..g, Duet. 34:10-12.
- Thus this letter quotes a passage that indicates how Moses spoke to God face to face, not through indirect and occasion means such as visions, as He did with the later prophets. And thus, Moses was placed in charge of God's household, i.e., His people. See Num. 12:5-7. The prophets were God's spokesmen; Moses was greater than they.
2. That letter argues
that the honor given to Moses should be a preparation for the honor
given to Jesus. See, e.g., John 6:32-33. Given that Jesus
expounded on the Law as Moses did, see, e.g., Matt. 5-7, and even overrode
the Mosaic Law at time, see, e.g., Mark 10:1-12, people may have been
inclined to think of Jesus as a new Moses. This section will present
Him as one of whom Moses was an image.
3. The letter goes onto say that Moses was merely a steward put in charge of God's house; Jesus is the house itself.
- The idea is that
the Chosen People would sometimes be called the house of God.
As the letter indicates now the Church, comprising God's new Chosen
People, is the house of God. See, e.g., 1 Cor. 3:9; Eph. 2:19-20;
1 Tim. 3:15. And the essence of that house is Jesus, for the Church
is also the Body of Christ. See 1 Cor. 12:27-31. The analogy
of the House or God, like that of the Body of Christ, indicates that
each one has a special role and brings glory to all.
- Therefore, Moses
only prepared the way for Christ, who would give us the fullness of
God's favor. Moses witnessed in partial signs, laws, and rituals
what Jesus would make manifest in His life, death, and Resurrection.
D. But the letter takes that statement further. It says that Jesus is greater than Moses as the builder of the house; and it then identifies God as the builder, identifying Jesus with God.
- The letter then draws
also a certain distinction saying God put Jesus over the house as a
son. The idea is that there is still a distinction between God
the Father and God the Son, even though they are both God. The
language that would describe God as Three Divine Persons with One Divine
Nature would come later, in the third and fourth centuries. But
the truth is already expressed here.
II. The letter then goes onto the moral section, exhorting the faithful to place confidence in Christ, hold fast to the hope of eternal life, and therefore retain our places in the household of God.
A. In this context, it expounds on Psalm 95 and applies it by analogy to the pilgrimage of Christian life.
95 begins as a praise of God and call to worship Him, but then proceeds
onto a warning not to lose trust in God, as the ancient Israelites did
when they were in the desert after being freed from slavery in Egypt.
The letter quotes from that warning.
2. Psalm 95, which is the first option for the first part of the Divine Office that priests, deacons, and religious sisters take vows to pray, begins with a glorious call to rejoice in God's presence.
- It reflects
upon God as the never-changing rock of salvation, who always provides
for His people.
- It goes onto to praise God's might as "the king over all the gods."In this case gods probably means angels or the forces of nature, for the Psalm then praises God as alone being able to create the world.
- It then goes
back to the loving care of God as a shepherd for His people, an image
that Jesus would take up.
3. However, the Psalm also contains a warning that infidelity will result in wandering or other punishment, as the wandering of the people in the desert indicates.
- The Psalm
refers to three of the ten times that the People of God showed a lack
of confidence in Him. As the Chosen People were approaching Mount
Sinai, there was a shortage of water, and the people started rebelling.
God told Moses to strike rock; he did so, and water flowed out.
Then, after leaving Mount Sinai the people were supposed to fight the
Amalekites in the south of the Promised Land in order to enter it.
At that point, they refused, fearing the native peoples. God then
said that they would wander for forty years until that generation passed
away. On their way back from the Promised Land, they again began
to rebel because of the shortage of water. God again told Moses
to strike rock. He struck the rock twice, perhaps out of a weak
faith and/or frustration. Water flowed forth, but Moses, because
he did not show forth God's holiness, could not himself enter the
promised Land. See Ex. 17:1-7; Numbers 13:25-14:38, 20:2-13.
4. Because of this
lack of faithfulness, the first generation did not enter the Promised
Land. The Psalm contrasts the joyous confidence in God with this
punishment at a lack of fidelity.
B. The Letter then draws an analogy between the Promised Land and the final rest that the Christian faithful are called to.
1. The idea
was that those who lack ed faith that God would guide them in the desert
are images of a Christian who loses faith in God.
2. The letter especially focuses on the notion of putting trust in God "today." The idea is that one can forsake God even if one has been with Him and initially placed "first confidence in Him."
3. The letter
also calls upon Christians to "exhort one another," the idea being
that one does not maintain faith alone.
III. The next section then develops the idea of entering into the "rest" of the promised Land.
A. The section also
associates this rest with the Sabbath rest of the seventh day, the completion
of creation. See Ex. Gen. 2:2-3; 20:8-11. The idea is that
we are progressing to the completion of the new heavens and the new
earth. See, e.g., Is. 65:27, 66:22; Rom. 8:20; Rev. 21:1.
Like this letter, the explanation fo the Temp Commandments that Moses
gave to the people just before they entered the Promised Land connected
the Sabbath to their freedom. See Duet. 5:12-15.
B. By implication,
the Sabbath is therefore meant to be a first promise and image of the
life in the new Promised Land. See John Paul II, Dies Domini (1998)
C. The letter also
argues that the rest of which Psalm 95 speaks could not have been only
the rest in the Promised Land, for if such were the case, there would
be no application to future generations who would already live in the
Promised Land. Because the Psalm was plaining meant to draw a
lesson from the desert experience, there must be a greater rest that
people are progressing toward.
D. The letter concludes this section with a reflection on the written and personal word of God.
1. The letter
begins by pointing out how powerful the word of God is. See, e.g.,
Ps. 29:3-9, 33:6; Wis. 18:15; Sir. 42:15; Is. 49:2; Eph. 6:17, 1 Pet.
1:23. The idea is that, when one receives the word of God, one's
true response to God becomes clear, a response that may have been unclear
2. The letter then that Jesus is the ful word of God, of which the words that Moses pronounced from Mount Sinai and during the journey in the desert were only preparations. See, e.g., John 1:1-2; Rev. 19:13. He is the fullness of the revelation of God. Catechism 65.