27 Mar 2010

Hebrews 6, being burned

Submitted by theshovel
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Can you share with me when you have some free time your position on Hebrews 6:7-8 a little more in detail please. I do know that thorns and briers had to do with Israel as it was quoted several times in the OT (Isaiah). So many are quick to make "burned" to be hell fire when NOWHERE in Hebrews was a hell even mentioned as I can't figure out why such people like forcing strange meanings into Scripture. Others make it the Bema seat that our works will be burned and that I cannot buy into either. My question is not so much about that but how you really see those verses referring back to the previous verses. David

Hello David,

Okay, let's look at a little more context:

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we shall do, if God permits. For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. Hebrews 6:1-9 NAS77

Notice that the subject in Hebrews 6:7-8 is the ground. The blessing from God is that which is upon the ground that drinks the rain. For the ground brings forth vegetation that benefits those for whom it is tilled. The subject does not change in the next part of this statement, as seen in verse 8.

Also notice that the "it" that "ends up being burned" is the fore-mentioned "ground that drinks the rain". How often have we misread this as if the object of the burning are the thorns and thistles? And then we mistakenly try to determine who the thorns and thistles might refer to. Both the vegetation mentioned in verse 7 as well as the thorns and thistles in verse 8 speak of that which comes out of the ground. Productive ground that brings forth useful vegetation receives a blessing from God. Ground that does not produce a worthwhile crop is considered worthless and is spoken of as "close to being cursed". Farmers learned long ago that burning an almost-cursed field can restore it back to productivity.

Keep in mind that the writer uses Hebrews 6:7-8 as an illustration of his point rather than expressing his conclusion by it. Make sure to view it all together, without drawing unfounded conclusions by a close examination of the illustration. Here are some more considerations I wrote out this morning about parables:

Consider how Jesus explained the parables he spoke in Matthew:

Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. And the one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word, and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit, and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. Matthew 13:18-23

Jesus spoke of the portions of ground as references to certain kinds of people, though the whole field has a connection. As he came for and spoke to Israel, it would seem that, at least for the direct meaning of the illustration, the ground would represent Israel. However, that understanding was meant to be expanded, as Jesus referred to others.

Then He left the multitudes, and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field." And He answered and said, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. Matthew 13:36-43

Here the seed, rather than the ground, refers to the people (either the sons of the kingdom or the sons of the evil one); while the field or ground is the world, which most likely refers the habitable earth. To attach fixed meanings to the details of parables or illustrations come from a desire for uniformity, but it can be misleading. While there can be great significance attached to certain details based upon earlier OT references, the immediate context is our best reference for the understanding of an illustration. It may well turn out that an already established connection to certain details plays a part in a later illustration, but how it comes into view is often shown in a different light.

"Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT AND DUG A WINE PRESS IN IT, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey. And when the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. And the vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and seize his inheritance.' And they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?" They *said to Him, "He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers, who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons." Jesus *said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures, 'THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES'? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust." And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. And when they sought to seize Him, they feared the multitudes, because they held Him to be a prophet. Matthew 21:33-46

Even the Pharisees and chief priests couldn't miss the obvious reference to themselves in this parable. Here, the vineyard refers to the kingdom of God which is leased out to those who desire a chance at stealing the inheritance. I doubt any of the religious leaders would have missed the obvious reference to Isaiah 5.

Let me sing now for my well-beloved A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. And He dug it all around, removed its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it, And hewed out a wine vat in it; Then He expected it to produce good grapes, But it produced only worthless ones. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge between Me and My vineyard. What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. And I will lay it waste; It will not be pruned or hoed, But briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, And the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress. Isaiah 5:1-7

There are similarities throughout these parables, however, it all gets mixed up and isolated by our attempts to create hard and fast doctrines. Anyhow, I agree with your rejection of the common interpretations by which they relate the burning in Hebrews 6:7-8 to hell or to the Bema seat. I think the illustration has been scrutinized way too much, with the resultant understanding having suffered in direct proportion. The comment about the ground ending up being burned because of worthlessness would produce the simple imagery of a new start. For the Jews, this is significant. Consider the scene as described in chapter 3:

Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end; while it is said, "TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS, AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME." For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. Hebrews 3:12-19

What else can be understood from this event except that something monumental, something akin to a new start, occurred in their history? For every single one of the adults, the very ones who chose not to enter in, died in the wilderness so that they did not enter in. In other words, while Israel entered into the promised land, it was not the same Israel that left Egypt and chose not to go in. Israel had been as the ground that often drank in the rain and yet produced thorns and thistles. The ground had to be burned, it had to be cleared off so that it could produce something worthwhile. I see this letter urging Israel, as a whole, in the same way as when they stood before the entrance to the promised land. Something was about to happen that would change the landscape of the kingdom of God, and the writer of this letter (very possibly Paul) made sure they understood the impact. Just because Israel had rallied around the name of Christ did not change the simple fact that here, once again, as a whole, the nation was no different than before.

For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end Hebrews 3:14

Now while many have proposed that this statement indicates the possibility of losing one's salvation, it instead applies specifically to Israel as its time drew nearer. While this following passage refers to Jews who hadn't claimed to believe in Christ, it really helps to define the change in the direction of God's working. For after having given a short narrative on Israel's history, Paul said to the crowd at Pisidian Antioch:

It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For thus the Lord has commanded us, 'I HAVE PLACED YOU AS A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES, THAT YOU SHOULD BRING SALVATION TO THE END OF THE EARTH.' Acts 13:46-47

Israel, at the time of this letter, was once again standing at the crossroad of its history. It was, despite the statement of its assurance, a nation that did not believe the very thing it claimed. Realize that this was the very same crowd that was singing praises to Jesus that almost ripped Paul to shreds when he came to Jerusalem. Whatever they were believing created a massive illusion that they had turned around as a nation to the true and living God.

To this crowd, the writer of Hebrews presents Christ. He does so in the hopes of reaching the ears of the ones who could truly hear. The writer was not blind to the reality that Israel would reveal itself as the unbelieving nation it really was. Instead, he desired to reveal to those who truly believed as to the predicament they were in. He wanted them to know that their real life, their real faith was not substantiated or defined by the lie that surrounded them. He wanted to assure them that the way had already been made to approach the true and living God apart from the growing demands of their own people that their sins stood in the way. As it was, Israel (at least in Jerusalem) as a supposedly believing nation had begun sacrificing animals upon the altar for sins, when the so-called profession of their assurance was in the one who had already taken them out of the way. True assurance, in the midst of this unbelief, had to be revealed in such a way as to cause the children of God to recognize the deception, so that they would stop looking to their blind leaders for truth and understanding. The author knew the difficulty they faced, for he had experienced it himself.

Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Hence, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. Hebrews 13:12-14

Also, if you ever have some free time then can you share Hebrews 3:6 that says: "But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end."
I'm curious your take on the verse. I heard the lame Lordship salvation arguments and those that believe you can lose your salvation. Free grace always seems to read loss of rewards and service into verses. David

Let's jump back to the beginning of Hebrews 6:

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we shall do, if God permits. For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame. Hebrews 6:1-6

"The elementary teaching about the Christ" describes the legal approach to Christ. I would venture to say that it also describes the doctrinal approach to Christ. After all, what else could possibly be taught of Christ by those who are caught up in the Law other than to view him according to the flesh? Verses can be quoted, confessions can be agreed to, and doctrines can be held to all under the cover of that which makes sense to the natural mind. This elementary teaching is what the believers had been subjected to in Jerusalem, and I am sure they were conflicted the whole time because of the life within them. Just a quick look at the list of things mentioned in connection with the elementary teachings reads like the list of standard Christian doctrines that are taught to "new believers".

Now, the "not laying again a foundation" has nothing to do with the idea that they didn't need to be re-taught doctrines they already knew, but rather with the impossibility that it could be done. Whatever "maturity" is it is found beyond the realm of such elemental teachings. Consider how Paul had told the Corinthians:

For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:1

The foundation is real and alive, it is not a teaching that can be learned in a classroom setting. The elementary Christian approach clearly stands upon the assumption that truth can be taught by men or by the logic of man. This is what the Hebrews' author was desirous to get past with these people. For the difficulty is not found in the ability of the teacher to properly teach the truth, for the truth comes through the spirit of God, but instead the difficulty is found in the fleshly perceptions that make truth appear as a matter of opinion. That's why we see so much of the New Testament letters devoted to a constant challenging of the Law and the false perceptions created by it. That's also why we see so many warnings against false prophets and teachers. The determination of truth is not a matter of judging which teaching is true, but rather the recognition that true teaching comes by the spirit of God within. The message of the gospel is a declaration of Christ and him crucified, and it will either be received through faith or else rejected as absurdity. The confusion comes when those who reject it learn how to use a logically understood version in order to gain something by it. The gain may be financial or even something as fundamental as a sense of respect or purpose.

Well, I have written on this most of the day, and it's past time to stop. I hope to hear your thoughts on it. :)


New Testament: 
Old Testament: 

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