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10 Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways:
11 Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.
The apostle, commenting upon this passage about one thousand years after it was written, says, "exhort one another daily, while it is called to-day; " and, "labour, to enter into the rest that remaineth for the people of God" (Heb. 3:13; 4:9-11). Thus, it was called "to-day," when David wrote; and "to-day," when Paul commented upon it. This was a long day; but one, however, which is not yet finished; and will continue unclosed until the manifestation of the rest in the Paradise of God.
Elpis Israel 1.2.
The reader's attention is particularly requested to this passage of Jewish history. The apostle, in commenting upon these incidents, says that the gospel was preached to them on this occasion; and that the land spied out was connected with God's rest. His words are these -- "They could not enter into His rest because of unbelief:" then addressing his brethren, be says, "Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached as well as unto them; but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it" (Heb. 3:18, 19; 4:1,2).
In the context of this passage the apostle had been speaking of Moses and Christ, the former, as a faithful servant in another's house; and the latter as a son over his own house: whose house the believers in the things spoken of the land are, "if they hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end."
He then introduces the case of the fourth generation as a warning of the fatal consequences of letting go the hope of the promise. He quotes from a scripture written in the fourteenth generation, in which the Holy Spirit repeats the sentence upon them, and upon all like them, who harden their hearts, saying, "They shall not enter into my rest" (Psalm 95:7).
What rest is here spoken of? The peaceable possession and enjoyment of the land so highly commended by Caleb. They did not enter in, but were turned back towards the Red Sea, and wandered in the wilderness for forty years until the carcasses of all the rebels above twenty years old fell to their lowest estate.
But the fifth generation obtained the rest under Joshua when they possessed the land. No, says the apostle, they did not; "for if Joshua had given them rest, then would God not have spoken afterward by David of another day," The rest which Joshua gave the nation was only transitory. When he and his associates of the fifth generation died, the nations which God had not driven out, were as thorns in their sides which gave them but little rest in after years. "There remaineth then," saith he, "a rest for the people of God;" even Canaan in the age to come, under Shiloh, the Prince of Peace, whose ''rest shall be glorious" (Psalm 132:11-18), and undisturbed by war's alarms.
Now this rest under Shiloh was preached unto them. The possession under Joshua was the first step to the full accomplishment of the covenant. Had the nation continued to obey the Lord's voice and to keep the covenant, and when Christ came received him as king on the proclamation of the gospel, they would doubtless have been in Canaan until now; and he might have come ere this, and be now reigning in Jerusalem, King of the Jews and Lord of the nations.
But had this been the case, we Gentiles would have had no part in the kingdom. We might attain to eternal life at the end of the reign; but in the glory of the kingdom, and in the administration of its affairs, as heirs of the world with Abraharn and his seed, we should have had no part; for it was the unbelief of the forty-second generation of Israel that became the riches of the Gentiles.
The fourth generation "could not enter in because of unbelief." Neither can we unless we also believe what they rejected; for the same gospel that was preached to them, was preached by the apostles to the forty-second generation; but cannot be said to be preached to us of this century. I am endeavouring, however, to set it before the people in this book; though I feel it a difficult work, seeing that men's minds are so mystified, and preoccupied, with the jargon of the schools.
God's rest in Canaan -- by which is not meant that all his saints will be living there, though all that abide there will be a righteous people; the things which belong to Canaan will overspread the world; and where there are nations to be governed there will there be saints to rule -- but this rest, I say, is the great theme of the gospel whether preached by Moses, by Jesus, or by the apostles. The rest and the kingdom are but different terms, though substantially the same. They will both be of Canaan, and are both the subject of the promise made of God to Abraham and his seed for ever.
Elpis Israel 2.4.