Copyright © 1993 by Westminster Theological Seminary, cited with permission.
CREATION AND RE-CREATION:
PSALM 95 AND ITS INTERPRETATION IN HEBREWS 3:1-4:13
PETER E. ENNS
PSALM 95 does not read like a "typical" psalm. The first half, vv. 1-7a,
is an exhortation to praise Yahweh. The second half, vv. 7b-11, is a
word of warning against hardening one's heart and ends on an altogether
sour note: "As I swore in my wrath: ‘surely they shall not enter my rest.’"
This second half follows abruptly upon the first, apparently without the
slightest indication that these two halves belong together. As a result, many
form-critics have argued that Psalm 95 is composed of two songs that were
sung in the cult. Congregational praise was followed by a prophetic warn-
ing, in what Gunkel called wechselnde Stimmen.1 This overall approach di-
vides into two general camps: (1) those who recognize two distinct parts but
say that this structure is original to the psalm,2 and (2) those who say that
this two-part structure is a sign that they were originally two distinct songs
with two distinct Sitze-im-Leben.3
The form-critical approach is not unjustified since there are clear differ-
ences between these two parts with respect to mood, person, and subject
matter. The first half is praise, the second half a warning; in the first half
the worshipers are speaking, in the second half God is the speaker; the first
half deals with creation while the second half deals with rebellion in the
desert. All of these factors certainly suggest that there are differences be-
tween the two parts that need to be discussed. Nevertheless, I question
whether past approaches have been helpful in explaining why Psalm 95
looks the way it does. Whether one argues on form-critical grounds for
1 Hermann Gunkel, Die Psalmen ubersetzt and erklart (6th ed.;
& Ruprecht, 1986) 418. A similar view is expressed in other older commentaries such as Her-
mann Hupfeld, Die Psalmen (Gotha: Friedrich Andreas Perthes, 1860) 3.44-45, and W. O. E.
Oesterley, The Psalms (New York: Macmillan, 1939) 2.419, as well as more recent works such
as Hans Joachim Krause, Psalmen (Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 1960) 2.662, and Moses
Buttenweiser, The Psalms: Chronologically Treated with a. New Translation (
1969) 798. For an exhaustive summary of the scholarship on Psalm 95 see G. H. Davies, "Psalm
95," ZAW 85 (1973) 183-87. His efforts will not be repeated here.
2 Gunkel is an example of this approach: "The second part, 7-11, stands in stark contrast
to the first. . . . The difference between both parts is so great, that one could well divide this
psalm into two poems that have come together only accidentally. . . . But this observation fails
when one takes notice that the same contrast is evident in the very similar Psalm 81" (Psalmen,
3 See, for example, T. K. Cheyne: "Ps. xcv. as it stands is formed of fragments of two
psalms" (The Book of Psalms [London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, & Co., 1888] 265).
either original unity (Gunkel) or disunity (Cheyne), the question still re-
mains why these two parts are together. One cannot simply argue for orig-
inal disunity by taking refuge in an inept redactor who, for no apparent
reason, brought together two distinct and unrelated songs for use in the
cult. Nor does arguing for original unity settle the question. One would still
have to ask why an author would write a psalm with such apparently
distinct parts for use in the cult. It is a curious situation that the problem
created by an alleged incongruity in subject matter, etc., is supposedly
solved by appealing to the function of the psalm in a cultic setting—as if the
cultic reciters of the psalm would be disinterested in whether the two parts
made sense together. Positing a particular form does not remove the prob-
lem of incongruity. It simply raises the same questions on a different level:
how can these two parts be justified to coexist in the same psalm? What
particular cultic purpose would be served by juxtaposing two such dispar-
In discussing Hebrews' use of Psalm, 95, it is only appropriate that we
begin by looking carefully at Psalm 95 itself, which is to answer the ques-
tion, "Why does Psalm 95 look the way it does?" To investigate this issue,
we must pay closer attention not to a presumed setting in which a psalm
might have been uttered, but to the words on the page. It is the task of the
first part of this article to show that Psalm 95 is a sensible and purposeful
work, not merely because it might have had a cultic function, but because
the psalm makes sense. What unites this psalm is what might be called the
creation/re-creation theme.4 Verses 1-5 deal with God's cosmic creation as
motivation for worshiping Yahweh. Verses 6-7a follow by speaking of an-
other act of "creation," the Exodus, which also inspires the faithful to
worship. Verses 7b-11 conclude the psalm by warning the readers against
unfaithfulness. That the writer chooses the incident at Meribah and Mas-
sah (cf. Exod 17:1-7 and Num 20:1-13) as a paradigm for his warning is
significant since this is the quintessential rebellion of the original second
creation community, thus making explicit the Exodus connection implied
in vv. 6-7a. Establishing the thematic unity of the psalm will have some
bearing on how we understand Heb 3:1-4:13, the topic of the next section.
applies this Exodus warning to his readers, (1) by presenting
and the church as being in an analogous situation: both are Exodus com-
munities in their period of wilderness wandering; (2) by making certain
changes in the citation of Ps 95:7b-11 so as to make it most relevant for his
readers; (3) by equating the goal of the Christian's wandering with God's
4 Two recent and helpful studies have undertaken to show the unity of Psalm 95: Marc
Girard, "Analyse structurelle du Psaurne 95," ScEs 33 (1981) 179-89, and Pierre Auffret,
"Essai sur la structure litteraire du Psaume 95," Biblische Notizen 22 (1983) 47-69. Their results
are stimulating but based entirely on the structure of the psalm. Where I hope to go beyond
these and other studies is by showing that the unity is not only structural but also thematic.
CREATION AND RE-CREATION 257
creation rest, a point that draws upon the creation/re-creation theme. I begin by
offering the following translation of Psalm 95 for the reader's convenience.
1. Come, let us shout with joy to Yahweh,
let us shout aloud to the rock of our salvation.
2. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving,
with songs let us shout to him;
3. for Yahweh is a great God, and a great King above all gods
4. in whose hands are the earthly recesses;
mountain peaks also belong to him;
5. to whom belongs the sea, since he made it;
his hands also formed the dry land.5
6. Come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before Yahweh our maker;
7a. for he is our God: we are the people of his pasture,
the sheep of his hand.6
7b. Oh, that you would obey him today:
8. "Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
9. where your fathers tested me.
They tried me even though they had seen my deed(s).7
10. For forty years I was angry with [that] generation, so I
said, ‘They are a people whose heart is wandering;
they do not know my ways.’
11. As I swore in my wrath, ‘Surely, they will not enter my rest.’”
5 To anticipate our discussion, it is tempting to read v. 5 as intentionally ambiguous. Might
the mention of sea and dry land refer both to creation
and to the parting of the
Dahood argues in the same vein for "rock" (rvc) in v. 1, anticipating the Meribah/Massah
incident, which is the focus of vv. 7b-11 (Psalms II: 51-100 [AB 17; Garden City: Doubleday,
6 The exact meaning of v. 7a has been a topic of much discussion. Dahood argues that vdy
should be read as "his grazing plot" rather than "his hand" (Psalms II, 354). This fits well
with vtyfrm and would yield a nice word play with dy in vv. 4 and 5. Nevertheless, even if this
creative solution were correct, it would not solve the problem. It is still a question what the
mixed metaphor "people of his pasture" means. Whether vdy means "grazing plot" or "his
hand" will not help us here. It would make more sense were the passage to read "people of
his hand" (under his authority) and "sheep of his pasture," i.e., switching the constructs. As
it stands, we have two successive mixed metaphors, which for all we know may be an inten-
tional stylistic (chiastic?) device. The Targum, perhaps trying to alleviate the awkwardness, reads,
hydyx tyyfr Nxcv hymf vnHnxv, "And we are his people, the sheep of the pasture of his hand."
Gunkel reads, "For he is our God, and we are [his] people, the sheep of his pasture"
(Psalmen, 417). To achieve this reading, Gunkel must read a suffix on Mf (or at least argue that the
suffix is implied) and transpose the last two words of the phrase to vtyfrm Nxcv.. Neither has
any versional support, although the latter emendation is supported by Pss 74:1 and 100:3. He then
reads vdy as vfd (m. pl. imperative of fdy) and translates it, "Know that today...." This, too, is
conjectural. The same translation is followed by Krause (Psalmen, 662), and Oesterley (Psalms, 419).
7 Whether ylfp should be translated singular or plural will be discussed in n. 28.
I. Creation and Re-creation in Psalm 95
1. Ps 95:1-7a
A brief overview of the structure of this portion of the psalm will serve
as a lead into a discussion of its thematic unity.8 We have in vv. 1-5 a
message of praise. The first-person cohortative predominates with God be-
ing spoken of in the third person. The opening imperative enjoins the
worshipers to perform four acts: come let us sing, shout aloud, draw near,
shout aloud. Whereas vv. 1-2 extol the worshipers to come, vv. 3-5 give the
reasons why (yk). Verse 3 is a general declaration of God's greatness above
all gods: there is no one like Yahweh. Verses 4 and 5 are two relative clauses
introduced by rwx that modify the main compound sentence of v. 3. Verse
4 specifies the declaration of v. 3. Why is God greater than all other gods?
By virtue of his ownership of all creation—from the unsearchable depths to
the mountain heights, all this belongs to him. Verse 5 takes the thought one
step further—or better, one step back. Not only is God the greatest by
virtue of his ownership of all creation, but he himself is the creator. He
made both the sea (v. 5a, vhWf) and the dry land (v. 5b). We have then
in vv. 1-5 a call to worship, the motive of which is based on the fact that
Yahweh is the greatest God. What makes him the greatest is not only his
ownership of creation (v. 4), but the fact that he is the creator himself (v. 5).
Verses 6 and 7a parallel vv. 1-5 in structure. Verse 6 corresponds to vv.
1-2: come, let us worship, bow down, kneel. Verse 7a corresponds to vv. 3-5
by providing the motive for worship: "for [yk] he is our God, i.e., we are the
people of his pasture, the sheep of his hand." Once again, the community
is to come and worship. But the motive here is not simply God as the creator
and owner of that creation (as if that were not enough!). What motivates
the worshipers now is that God is also the "creator" of his people (vnWf,
v. 6).9 But what does it mean to say, "Yahweh is our maker"? When were
people created? This is a reference to
when they came out of
(1) Creation and Re-creation Language. This juxtaposition of creation lan-
guage and the Exodus is a theme found elsewhere in Scripture.Hos 8:13-14
is one example: "Now he will remember their wickedness and punish their
sin. They will return to
will be punished for his disobedience by returning
question is raised, What does "his maker" mean? The context of the
8 More detailed treatments may be found in Auffret, "Essai sur la structure"; Girard,
"Analyse structurelle"; Davies, "Psalm 95"; and Charles Bruce Riding, "Psalm 95:1-7c as a
Large Chiasm," ZAW 88 (1976) 418.
9 Both Girard ("Analyse structurelle," 183ff.) and Auffret ("Essai sur la structure," 49ff.)
pick up on the repetition of hWf in vv. 5 and 6 and its importance for understanding the
structure of Psalm 95, but they do not make the thematic connection.
CREATION AND RE-CREATION 259
passage suggests at least one thing: it is to be understood in some connection
to the Exodus.10 By sending faithless
what he has done (hWf) by bringing them out
will be an
ishment for disobedient
reduced to a state that undoes her creation—she
will return to
The creation/re-creation theme is also found in Exodus 15, the Song at
the Sea. Verse 16 refers to the Israelites who are
coming out of
people you have created" (tynq vz-Mf).11 We should not allow the fact that
a different root is used (hnq instead of hWf) to distract us from the force of
the argument. The Exodus is closely associated with an act of creation and
it is the presence of this theme that is important.12
Isa 43:14-17 is also relevant. Verse 15 reads: "I am Yahweh, your Holy
the idea of creation is clear nevertheless. (The use of xrb, if anything,
strengthens the argument, since it provides a strong connection with cre-
ation in Gen 1:1.) What is
meant here by "
is loaded with Exodus imagery and therefore strongly suggests that there is
some connection between
an explicit reference to the crossing of the
who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who
drew out chariots and horses, both armies and soldiers." These passages
provide convincing evidence that a tradition exists in the OT that under-
stands the Exodus as an act of creation. The use of the Leitwort hWf in Ps
95:5-6, in addition to the obvious reference to creation in vv. 1-5, suggests
that Psalm 95 exhibits a similar tradition.13
10 Although the point cannot be developed here, there is another level at which this passage
can be read—with what follows in v. 14 rather than (or better, in addition to) with what
In any event, the close juxtaposition of hWf and
11 The root hnq can also mean "to buy, "acquire," or "beget." The meaning of the root
is ambiguous, yet with God as the subject the meaning "create" is likely. See Gen 14:19, 22
(Crxv Mymw hnq); Ps 139:13 (ytylk tynq); and Prov 8:22 (referring to wisdom, ynnq hvhy).
For a fuller discussion, see P. Humbert, "’Qana’ en hebreu biblique," Festschrift Alfred Bertholet
(Tubingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1950) 259-66. Deut 32:6, like Exod 15:16, is probably another
archaic poem and also uses this root with
verse, both hnq and hWf appear: "Is he not your father, your creator [jnq], who made you [jWf]
and formed you [jnnky]?"
12 The use of hnq in Isa 11:11 is also helpful, although there it is used in the context of the
be developed in the following paragraphs.
13 Like hWf, vdy is also a Leitwort bringing together the creation ("depths of the earth" and
"dry land" in vv. 4 and 5) and the Exodus ("sheep of his hand" in v. 7). The use of shep-
herding language to describe the Exodus will be discussed below.
Isa 43:14-17 is also instructive in another direction. Not only do we have
here the connection between creation and Exodus (re-creation) in vv. 15-17,
but between creation, Exodus, and the return from
trayed as a second Exodus. Verse 14 reads, "Thus says Yahweh, your re-
deemer [Mklxg], the Holy One of Israel, ‘For your sake I will send to
in which they took pride.’" Although a complete discussion of the con-
nection between creation, the
Exodus, and the return from
take us far beyond our stated purpose, it does provide a useful line of
inquiry. For one thing, the juxtaposition in this passage of the Exodus (vv.
and the return from
re-creation paradigm. It also establishes a connection between re-creation
and redemption (lxg), since redemption here can mean nothing other than
the return from
and proclaim it. Send it out to the ends of the earth. Say, "Yahweh has redeemed
[lxg] his servant Jacob. They did not thirst when he led them through the desert;
he made water flow from a rock for them. He split a rock and water gushed forth."
passage is particularly helpful. The return from
explicitly to the Exodus (with a clear reference to the rebellion at Meribah
and Massah), thus
portraying the return from
dus.14 Hence, it speaks not
only of the return from
Yahweh's redemption (lxg), but by clear implication the Exodus as well.
The first Exodus is unambiguously tied to the second Exodus. Both are acts
of re-creation; both are acts of redemption.
Now, I would not want to press this line of reasoning too far, as if to say
that every mention of redemption from
matically understood as an act of creation. I am not saying that creation
and redemption are interchangeable concepts. Rather, I am making the
observation that both creation and redemption language are used to de-
scribe God's acts of deliverance, be it the Exodus or the return from Baby-
lon.15 Bearing this in mind will bring other passages into our discussion that
might otherwise be neglected. One such passage is Isa 54:5, "For your
husband is your maker [jyWf], Yahweh of Hosts is his name. Your redeemer
[jlxg], the Holy One of Israel; he is called the God of all the earth." This
is reminiscent of the re-creation language seen above. And vv. 6-8 make
explicit the connection to the return from
I will bring you back"). The language of creation and redemption are
juxtaposed to a re-creation event. Another example is Isa 44:2, "Thus says
14 This theme is also found, for example, in Hos 9:3 and Isa 52:4.
15 This point is also helpful for our understanding of hnq, mentioned above, which can also
mean "to redeem." There may be a purposeful ambiguity in Exod 15:16.
CREATION AND RE-CREATION 261
Yahweh your maker [jWf], who formed you [jrcy] in the womb and helped
you." Here, creation and yet another theme, conception, are brought to-
gether. There is no explicit mention of either the Exodus or the return from
Nevertheless, the question still remains what "formed you in the womb"
means. One plausible explanation is suggested by v. 24, which juxtaposes
rcy and lxg: "Thus says Yahweh, who redeemed you [jlxg], who formed
you [jrcy] in the womb." In v. 2, creation and conception are paralleled,
whereas here in v. 24 it is redemption and conception. Isa 45:9-13 argues
along a similar vein. Yahweh is the potter who forms (rcy) man (v. 9). He
is also the potter who forms
of his act of cosmic creation (v. 12) juxtaposed to the return of the exiles
of these parallels. Certainly rcy can be paralleled to both hWf and lxg
without having to conclude that these words all mean the same thing.
Nevertheless, the fact that these terms are brought together suggests at least
that they are to be understood as having some connection between them.
There is, at least in these passages from Isaiah,16 a complex of themes--con-
ception, redemption, creation—all of which refer not only to the Exodus
and/or the return from
there is a tradition in Scripture that understands both the Exodus and the
95 is merely one example of this tradition. This is of obvious interest for our
argument since establishing the presence of the Exodus theme in Ps 95:1-7a
provides a clear connection with the otherwise distinct second half.
(2) Shepherding Language. What further establishes the creation/re-cre-
ation theme in Ps 95:1-7a is the shepherding language of v. 7a. The jux-
taposition of shepherding to the deliverance theme is common in Scripture.
First, let us turn back to Isaiah 44. We have already seen that v. 24 connects
redemption and conception. Relevant here is the rest of v. 24, which jux-
taposes re-creation ("Thus says Yahweh who redeemed you, who formed
you in the womb") to creation ("I am Yahweh, the creator [hWf] of all
things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by
Verses 26b-27 make even more explicit the connection to the re-creation
theme, here the return from
16 The purpose of this discussion is not to establish a causal relationship between texts. That
Psalm 95 has an understanding of the Exodus that seems to be present in Isaiah does not
necessarily imply that the psalmist is deriving his message from Isaiah, either consciously or
unconsciously. I am simply answering the form-critical argument that Psalm 95 is made up
of two parts that have little more in common than an alleged cultic function. Toward that end,
it is sufficient to show that in its understanding of the Exodus, Psalm 95 stands within a
tradition of interpretation well represented elsewhere in Scripture. Indeed, this may be all
anyone can say.
rebuilt,’ and of her ruins, ‘I will restore them,’ who says to the watery
deep, ‘be dry and I will dry up your streams.’" Besides the overt reference
to the return from
clear attempt to portray the return from
Isa 48:20-21 and n. 14 above). The creation/re-creation theme being thus
established as central to this passage, we continue reading in v. 28, "who
says concerning Cyrus, ‘My shepherd [yfr]17—he will bring to pass all I
please. He will say of
its foundations be laid."'" In allowing the captives to leave
and rebuild their city and temple, Cyrus is acting like a shepherd.
Although more subtle, Hos 12:13-14 (EV. 12-13) is also relevant: "Jacob
fled to the country of
flocks [rmw]18. By a
prophet Yahweh brought
prophet he cared for him [rmwn]." This wordplay strongly suggests that the
ban's flocks for his wives, so did Yahweh (through the mediating work of
the prophet) "tend" his people by bringing them up out of
An example from the Pentateuch is Num 27:15-17. Yahweh is scolding
Moses for striking the rock instead of obeying his command only to speak
to it (Num 20:1-8). Moses says, "May Yahweh, the God of the spirits of all
flesh, appoint a man over this community who will go out before them and
come in before them, and who will lead them out [Mxycvy] and who will
bring them in, so that the community of Yahweh will not be like sheep
without a shepherd [hfr Mhl-Nyx rwx Nxck]." Although the specific context
is not the actual Exodus event, the shepherding imagery is still relevant.
the shepherd, was to bring the Israelites out of
remained steadfast: Joshua.
There are also several passages from the Psalms that speak of the Exodus
in shepherding language.
He brought out [hsn] his people like sheep [Nxc], he led [sHn] them like a
flock [rdf] through the desert. [Ps 78:52]
You led [urn] your people like sheep [Nxc] by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
17 For "my shepherd" the LXX reads cppovciv, perhaps "to be like-minded," for which
the editors of BHS offer the retroversion yfre (amicus meum eel sententia mea). This is a
plausible suggestion and certainly makes sense in the context, but I see no compelling reason to
accept it. It cannot, on the basis of text-critical standards (e.g., lectio difficilior or lectio brevior),
be preferred to the reading in the MT, since the issue here is not a problem in the consonantal
18 Although the object "flocks" is not expressed, the meaning is obvious since the point here
is what Jacob had to do to get a wife. Gen 30:32 speaks of sheep, lambs, and goats.
CREATION AND RE-CREATION 263
Why, 0 God, have you rejected us forever? Why does your anger smolder
against the sheep of your pasture [jtyfrm Nxc]? Remember your people
[jtdf] whom you created [tynq] of old, the tribe of your inheritance whom
you redeemed [tlxg]; you dwelt in
I should also mention Psalm 100, which juxtaposes creation language to
shepherding language, although there is no further overt reference to
either the Exodus or the return from
is God; he made us [vnWf]. Indeed,20 we are his people, the sheep of his
pasture [vtyfrm Nxc]."
Finally, shepherding imagery is also common in prophetic literature,
where it refers to the return from
Jer 31:10; Mic 5:4; and Ezekiel 34. In view of the close connection between
the Exodus and the return from
relevant to our argument. All of this establishes that expressing God's
salvific activity in shepherding imagery is a common OT theme.21
The point of the first half of Psalm 95 is clear: Psalm 95 is an "Exodus
psalm" long before we get to v. 7b. It is the creation/re-creation theme in
the first half that serves to connect it to the second. What is overt in vv. 7b-11
is barely concealed in vv. 1-7a. Of further interest is the manner in which
this theme is presented. Verses 1-5 speak of God as creator of the world,
whereas vv. 6-7a speak of him as creator of his people. Both are worthy
motives for praise. Nevertheless, vv. 6-7a bring the message much closer to
home. Praising God for his cosmic creative act is one thing, but praising
him for one's own concrete existence is quite another. This Exodus imagery
in vv. 6-7a makes vv. 1-5 more immediate for the readers of this psalm. The
19 Psalm 74 is helpful in three other respects. First, the parallel between hnq and lxg is worth
noting. Second, the reference to
74 is also helpful in that it also introduces mythic creation language into the context (vv. 12-17).
20 The Ketib for this last phrase is vnHnx xl, which the Massoretes read as vnhnx vl, "we are
his." Although my argument is not affected either way, the latter reading is more expected in
the context of creation and shepherding language. A strong argument, however, is made by
Daniel Sivan and William Schniedewind, that xl and xlh are asseveratives in biblical Hebrew
("Letting your ‘Yes’ be ‘No’ in Ancient Israel: A Discussion of the Asseverative xlo and xlh,"
JSS [forthcoming]). The translation would be, "Indeed, we are his people, and the sheep of
his pasture." This solution is also attractive in that it connects vnHnx unambiguously with vmf.
Leaving the Qere would yield an awkward syntax, a point that has puzzled commentators.
Sivan and Schniedewind cite J. Lewis as having first posed this solution ("An Asseverative xl
in Psalm 100:3?" JBL 86  216).
21 Despite the pervasiveness of this theme in the OT, I am not suggesting that shepherding
imagery is exclusively associated with the
Exodus or return from
78:70-72, which speaks of David, the shepherd. Jon Levenson argues that shepherding im-
agery is used for enthronement (Theology of the Program of Restoration of Ezekiel 40-48
creation is concretized in the most suitable manner, by an appeal to the
second creation. The proper response is praise.
We see then that the message of the first part of Psalm 95 is:
A. Let us praise Yahweh [the maker] (vv. 1-2)
B. because of his creation. (vv. 3-5)
A'. Let us praise Yahweh, our maker (v. 6)
B'. because we are his [second creation]. (v. 7a)22
There is a progression from creation to re-creation, from the cosmic to the
personal. The second half of the psalm continues the progression: the Exo-
dus theme is made explicit. Relating, then, this second creation imagery to
the second half of the psalm, which is itself overtly concerned with the
Exodus theme, seems a logical step.
2. Ps 95:7b-11
We must first establish more precisely the significance of the Meribah/
Massah incident for our psalm. This is a fitting example of disobedience for
our psalmist to choose to make his warning: it is the quintessential rebellion
of the Exodus community. Our understanding of this incident and what it
means for our interpretation of Psalm 95 will be aided by looking at how
this incident is presented elsewhere in Scripture.
The rebellion is recorded twice, in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20. This
raises the question of whether the psalmist had one or the other in mind for
his psalm. In Exodus 17, the emphasis is on the disobedience of the people.
They want water, so Moses is told by God to strike the rock so that water
will come out of it for the people to drink. Moses' action was one of obe-
dience. In a manner of speaking, this narrative is a story of the Israelites
denying the efficacy of the Exodus. In v. 3 we read of the people grumbling
against Moses (similar to their grumbling in Exod 14:11-12): "Why did you
bring us out of
thirst?" The Lord responds by giving another display of "Exodus power."
He commands Moses to strike the rock with the staff with which he had
earlier struck the
22 Whereas we see an ABAB pattern in these first seven verses, Charles Bruce Riding argues
for an ABBA pattern ("Psalm 95:1-7c," 418):
A. Let us worship our Savior (vv. 1-2)
B. for he is the creator of everything (vv. 3-5).
B'. Let us worship our creator (v. 6)
A'. for he is our Savior (v. 7a).
He defends his understanding of v. 7a, that shepherding language is savior language, by
appealing to Lev 26:12-13 and Jer 11:4. This also strengthens my suggestion that what is in
view in v. 7a is
part to the rest of Psalm 95.
CREATION AND RE-CREATION 265
lifegiving waters of the Egyptians
was now providing water for the
ites: the Exodus is revisited.23 Numbers 20 provides a different perspective
on the incident. There the people grumble as they do in Exodus 17, but the
emphasis of guilt is clearly on Moses. He is told only to speak to the rock.
Instead, he strikes it—twice. His punishment is that he will not be per-
mitted to enter the land (Num 20:12).
There are some advantages to understanding Exodus 17 as the back-
ground for Psalm 95. First, the people are the guilty party, a fact that would
speak more forcefully to the readers of Psalm 95. Second, in Psalm 95 the
forty-year period of God's anger against his people (v. 10) seems to be a
consequence of the rebellion (v. 8). In other words, the rebellion is at the
beginning of the forty-year period as in Exodus 17 rather than Numbers 20,
where it occurs at the end of the forty years. Yet, this fact also poses a
difficulty with relating this incident to our psalm. The event narrated in
Numbers 20 occurs near the end of that period and after a long succession
of rebellions starting in chap. 11. Hence, the threat of losing the promise of
the land is more immediate. This fact would also speak quite forcefully to
the addressees of Psalm 95, since this is how the psalm ends.
Other passages, especially several psalms, also mention the rebellion.
Ps 106:13-15 and 32-33 follow the tradition of Exodus 17 by emphasizing
the people's rebellion. Two passages, both in the Pentateuch, follow Num-
bers 20 (Num 27:14 and Deut 32:51). Several passages focus not on the issue
of rebellion, but speak of the incident as an example of God's benevolence
in providing water for his people (Pss 78:15-20; 105:41; 107:6; and 114:8,
as well as Isa 48:21 discussed above).24 Ps 81:7 puts an interesting twist on
things by interpreting the incident as one where God tested the people,
rather than the people tested God. This is particularly noteworthy since
Psalm 81 resembles Psalm 95 more closely than any other (see n. 2 and
All of this shows the variety of exegetical traditions concerning Meribah/
Massah. Which of these forms the background for Psalm 95? Clearly, the
traditions that regard the whole event as an act of God's benevolence can
be disregarded, so too the tradition expressed in Psalm 81. This leaves us
with the two main traditions of Exodus 17 and Numbers 20. Yet, there is
no reason to argue that Psalm 95 is necessarily dependent on one or the
other. For one thing, there does not appear to be anything in the psalmist's
use of the Meribah/Massah incident to indicate that he had one of these
traditions in mind over the other. One might counter that Psalm 95 has
Exodus 17 in mind, since these texts mention both Meribah and Massah
whereas Numbers 20 mentions only Meribah. But this argument is quite
through the very things by which their enemies were punished, they themselves received
benefit in their need."
found in other texts, including Pseudo-Philo 10:7; 11:15; 20:8; and 1 Cor 10:4.
inconclusive. The fact that both are mentioned in Psalm 95 is more likely
a function of the parallelism, or "seconding" quality, of biblical poetry
than any perceived dependence on Exodus 17. Moreover, it would be very
difficult to conclude, merely on the basis of the presence of both names, that
the author of Psalm 95 did not have Numbers 20 in mind, too.
Defining the issue as either/or would artificially limit the discussion. We
are reminded again of the fact that this event is recorded twice, near the
incident of wilderness rebellion is earlier (manna and quail in Exodus 16)
and only two are later (the bronze snake in Numbers 21 and the worship
of Baal Peor in Numbers 25). The rebellion at Meribah/Massah forms a
frame around virtually the entire wilderness rebellion period. The mention
of Meribah and Massah may be shorthand not just for Exodus 17 or
Numbers 20 but both—and everything in between.25 The subject in the
mind of the psalmist may not be merely this specific incident but the entire
period of wilderness rebellion. If the psalmist did have any specific text in
mind, it is more likely to have been Num 14:26-35 than either Exodus 17
or Numbers 20.26 There are some strong parallels in this passage that are
not found in the Meribah/Massah narratives proper. For one thing, Num
14:26-35 is an extended oath: hvhy-Mxn ynx-yH, “’As surely as I live,’ declares
Yahweh . . .” (v. 28), similar to the oath language of Ps 95:11. What follows
is a detailed description of the consequences of their unbelief. For one thing,
their bodies will fall in the desert (vv. 29, 33, 35) and only the obedient
Caleb and Joshua will enter (v. 30). We see that just as the unbelief of the
wilderness community kept them from their "rest," the addressees of Psalm
95 are threatened with this same punishment. And, although not as direct
a connection, the fact that Caleb and Joshua are permitted to enter the land
parallels what is implied in Psalm 95, i.e., that those who do not harden
their heart, who do not test the Lord, will indeed enter into his rest. Also,
the time of the Lord's discontent will be forty years (vv. 33-34). Both Psalm
95 and Numbers 14 mention the forty-year period of wrath. This is missing
from both Exodus 17 and Numbers 20.
We see then that the Meribah/Massah incident is a forceful reminder of
the disobedience of the Exodus community. This is the explicit reference to
25 Or, as Calvin argues, "Meribah and Massah" may be a synecdoche where the narrative
of Numbers 20, the height of their rebellion, represents the entire process of rebellion (Com-
mentary on the Book of Psalms [
mediator, rebelled. Can it get any worse? The specific issue of dependence does not appear to
be argued in the major commentaries.
26 See also
rendering of the place names as o[ parapikrasmo<j . . . and o[ peirasmo<j . . . indicates the
translator's intention to interpret Ps 95:7b-11 in the light of Num 14" (Hebrews 1-8 [WBC;
to imply that he is working with the MT. It is more likely that his rendering of the place names
is simply taken from the LXX.
CREATION AND RE-CREATION 267
the Exodus theme implicit in the first half of the psalm. True, the actual
because the point of these verses is to warn against disobedience rather than
recount God's act of deliverance. And what better way to warn this com-
munity of faith than by appealing to the example of the original second-
creation community? The creation/re-creation theme is a motive not only
for praise but for warning as well. With this is mind, it might be better to
think of our psalm not in two parts, as is normally done, but in three:
vv. 1-5: First creation is the motive for worship
vv. 6-7a: Second creation is the motive for worship.
vv. 7b-11: Second creation is the motive for warning.27
In this sense, the second part (vv. 6-7a) is the bridge that brings the whole
psalm together. Hence, there is no abrupt change in subject matter when
we come to v. 7b. Psalm 95 has been concerned throughout with the Exodus
as an object lesson, first for praise, then for warning.28
This is not to say, however, that our psalm behaves in a perfectly pre-
dictable manner. For one thing, there is a sudden shift from praise to
27 Auffret also argues that v. 7b begins a third distinct part of the psalm ("Essai sur la
structure," 64-65). He reads "Today" as an "invitation" parallel to vkl in v. 1 and vxb in v. 6.
Auffret subdivides vv. 8-11 by seeing two more such invitations: Mvyk in 8b and Nvxby-Mx in 11b.
28 Another point that may help in substantiating the connection between the two halves of
the psalm is the meaning of ylfp in v. 9. The form is clearly singular ("my deed") but the
question is whether it should be read as a singular, or as a collective "my deeds." One could
certainly argue that this is a reference, for example, to the plagues against the Egyptians or
perhaps the events recorded in Numbers 11-20, i.e., that ylfp should be read as a plural. Yet
it is consistent with the argument of the psalm to understand it as referring to a singular event,
the Exodus: "Be warned, heirs of God's creative act; even your fathers who saw my deed tested
and tried me. If they can fall in the desert, so can you." Davies also mentions that this can
refer to one event, but he suggests Meribah or even Exod 32:25-29 ("Psalm 95," 194). He
mentions the Exodus but only in passing.
The question remains whether there are any instances in Scripture of lfp in the singular,
preferably in construct with God, be it by name or pronoun, that have an unambiguous
singular meaning. This does not seem to be the case. In fact, there are many instances where
the meaning is unambiguously plural. Some examples in the Psalms are 64:10 (Myhlx lfp);
90:16 (jlfp, although LXX and some Syriac mss read jylfp); 143:5 (jlfp, with many mss,
as well as LXX, Syriac, and Targum, reading jylfp); 92:5 (jlfp); and 111:3 (vlfp). Of
particular interest are Isa 5:12 and Deut 32:4, both of which are arguably in re-creation contexts,
the former the return from
where the meaning is at least ambiguous. These passages include Hab 3:2 (jlfp) and Ps 77:13
(jlfp, although many mss, with LXX and Syriac, read jylfp), both of which deal with the
Exodus; Isa 45:11 (ydy lfp, mentioned above), which speaks of the Exile; and Job 36:24
(vlfp), which speaks of creation. Three other examples may apply, but there the topic of
discussion is not God's work but man's personal moral conduct (Prov 24:12, 29; Job 34:11).
Clearly, we do not want to make too much of this point. Nevertheless, it is worth consideration
that ylfp here might possess an ambiguity as elsewhere. The psalmist might have had in mind
many of the deeds of God recorded in Numbers 11-20, as well as the Exodus.
warning. The issue, however, is what one may be justified in concluding
from this sudden shift. To assume, as Cheyne does, that these "fragments
of two psalms" could not have been the product of one author or one
Sitz-im-Leben lacks any argument or proof. Mood alone is not the deciding
factor, and any insistence that the psalm is made up of two disparate parts
would have to account for evidence of its unity. Likewise, Gunkel's position
of the original unity of the psalm is not convincing unless one can demon-
strate what exactly in the psalm provides for this unity, besides merely
The fact that these verses are a warning accounts for the other differences
in this part of the psalm. In vv. 1-5, God is spoken of concerning his cosmic
creation. In vv. 6-7a, he is spoken of concerning
his creation of
the second half, God is no longer spoken of; he is the speaker. More spe-
cifically, he is giving his people a command, the imperative obviously being
a helpful way to express a warning. The end result is a psalm that progresses
from the impersonal to the personal. We move from creation (he made it)
to re-creation (he made us). We see how emphatic vv. 6-7a are in concret-
izing the God spoken of in such ineffable terms in vv. 1-5: "Yahweh our
maker, . . . he is our God, . . . we are the people of his pasture, the sheep of
his hand." Verses 7b-11 are even more concrete by making explicit what is
implicit in vv. 6-7a. Also, we move from God as passive object to God as
active speaker; from the indicative to the imperative. To put it another way,
Psalm 95 is an a fortiori argument couched in creation language. In the same
way that the worshipers respond properly (i.e., worshipfully) to the event
of God's first creation, an event in which they were not immediate par-
takers, ought they not also to respond properly to the event of the second
creation, an event that brought them into existence in history as the people
It seems, then, that the "today" spoken of in v. 7b is the "today" of the
worshiper. It is he whom God created out of the Exodus. It is ironic that in
making the creation more concrete by appealing to the second creation, the
psalmist is also making it timeless for the sake of all the faithful, i.e., so that
it can be concrete for everyone at any time. But is this not the very heart
of the religious experience, to make past events "timelessly concrete—for
worshipers at any time and in any place to bring the past to bear on their
present spiritual life? "Today" is any day in which disobedience to the God
of creation/re-creation is a live possibility for the worshiper. It is in this
sense that the psalm speaks to all worshipers of Yahweh from generation to
generation. This understanding of our psalm may provide an explanation
for why there is no demonstrative on "generation" (rvd) in v. 10. Although
the LXX has it (th? gene%? e]kei<n^ = xvhh rvdb), its absence in the MT
(whether original or secondary is not an issue) leaves the matter of which
generation ambiguous. It may be a device to make the warning immedi-
ately applicable to its readers, whenever their "today" might be.
CREATION AND RE-CREATION 269
Our psalm ends: "They shall not enter my rest" (ytHvnm). "Rest" could
have several meanings. First, it could be understood as referring to entering
the land. One would then reasonably posit an exilic setting for our psalm.
This is an attractive solution, since it would bring together creation and both
acts of re-creation, the Exodus and the return from
of view is to equate rest with the temple, a point that would add support to
suggestion that the psalm is pre-exilic and tied to the
ple.29 Such an understanding is found in 1 Chr 28:2 (hHvnm tyb); 2 Chr 6:41
(jHvn); Ps 132:8 (jtHvnm); and Isa 66:1 (ytHvnm Mvqm), although, at least for
the Chronicles texts, the concern is for the second temple. A third option
is to see this as a spiritual rest. Von Rad, for example, understands it as "a
Finally, it is tempting to understand "my rest" as God's creation rest
referred to in Gen 2:2. Although the root in Genesis is tbw rather than Hvn,
this interpretation would be in keeping with the theme of the psalm and
would provide a nice closure: it begins and ends with creation. In any
event, irrespective of how we solve this problem, this last interpretation
seems to be how the writer of Hebrews understood Psalm 95. It is to the
issue of the use of Psalm 95 in Hebrews that we now turn.
II. The Interpretation of Psalm 95 in Heb 3:1-4:13
This section of Hebrews is a warning against unbelief. The use of Psalm 95
(LXX 94, hereafter Psalm 95) in 3:7b-11 serves as an example of past
apostasy and the consequences thereof: "They shall never enter my rest"
(3:11; 4:3). The writer accomplishes his task in three ways. First, he pre-
pares his readers in 3:1-6 for his interpretation of Psalm 95 principally by
introducing the typological connection between
ond, he quotes the psalm in such a manner that it might have the most
immediate bearing on the new Exodus community (3:7-19). Third, his
understanding of "rest," the goal of the new Exodus community, as God's
creation rest establishes the creation/re-creation connection (4:1-13).
1. Heb 3:1-6
These verses serve as an introduction to the writer's exegesis of Psalm 95,
which begins in v. 7. In these verses, he prepares his readers by (1) making
overt reference to his readers, a move necessary in establishing the admon-
itory posture of the remainder of the pericope, and (2) presenting Jesus as
the new and better Moses, thus establishing the connection between the
29 Davies, "Psalm 95," 187ff.
30 G. von Rad, "There Still Remains a Rest for the People of God: An Investigation of a
Conception," in The Problem of the Hexateuch
and Other Essays (
McGraw-Hill, 1966) 99.
original Exodus community and the new Exodus community at "the end
of the ages" (9:26). Both of these are accomplished in part by playing on
the ambiguity of oi#koj throughout these verses.
In v. 1, the writer for the first time addresses his readers, calling them
"holy brothers, participators in a heavenly calling" (a]delfoi> a!gioi,
klh<sewj e]pourani<ou me<toixoi). By addressing his readers directly, the
writer is preparing them for the stern warning in the next passage. The
term me<toxoi also anticipates 3:14, where the "partakers" are the specific
addressees of the warning.31 The use of oi#koj also serves to bring the church
into the discussion. The word occurs in vv. 2 and 5
in v. 3 apparently referring to Moses. In v. 6 it refers to the church.32 Both
devices, the direct mention of the recipients and the climactic use of oi#koj,
provide a nice lead into the warning addressed directly to the church.
A second purpose the use of oi#koj achieves is in presenting Jesus as a type
of Moses. Diminishing Moses' greatness is not in the writer's purview.33
Rather, the focus is on Christ, who is exalted far above the central mediator
of the old dispensation. Jesus is "found worthy of greater honor" (v. 3). He
is posited as the second and greater Moses: Moses is merely a servant
(qera<pwn), Jesus is the son; Moses is in (e]n) God's house while Jesus is over
(e]pi<) it;34 Moses is the house itself while Jesus is the builder of the house.
The argument centers on the writer's midrashic exegesis of Num 12:7: '' ‘My
servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house" (LXX: e]n o!l& t&? oi@k& mou;
compare with Heb 3:2, 5: e]n o!l&35 t&? oi@k& au]tou?). The irony is evident:
the very fact by which Moses is said to be superior to the grumbling Miriam
31 A full treatment of the complexities involved in interpreting me<toxoi may be found in E.
Nardoni, "Partakers in Christ (Hebrews 3:14)," NTS 37 (1991) 456-72.
32 Harold W. Attridge comments, "the author . . . evidences the delight of the rhetorician
and midrashist in the subtle and playful use of language" (The Epistle to the Hebrews [Herme-
to this, that the church is.the
antitype not only of
further suggested by the idea that the faithful are coheirs with Christ, their "brother" (2:11,
17), who is himself the antitype of Moses. Attridge cautions against such an interpretation that
"unnecessarily presuppose[s] a univocal symbolic meaning for olxocg throughout the peric-
ope" (ibid., 110). It seems to me, however, that this typology, which plays precisely on the
ambiguity of the term is, if anything, a move away from presupposing a univocal symbolic
33 See also, E. Grasser, "Mose and Jesus: zur Auslegung von Hebr 3:1-6," ZNW 75 (1984)
over his House and Hebrew tybh-lf rwx," NTS 37  473-77).
35 The oldest mss do not have the adjective in v. 2 and Attridge thinks that this variant is
likely to be original (Hebrews, 104). The Hebrews text was probably made to conform to v. 5
and Nurn 12:7. Mary Rose D'Angelo agrees that the shorter form is original, which raises the
question why the adjective would have been omitted if Num 12:7 is being quoted (Moses in the
Letter to the Hebrews [SBLDS 42;
Nathan oracle in 1 Chr 17:14 is the basis for Heb 3:2, 5, a point which serves to highlight
Christ's faithfulness as appointed high priest.
CREATION AND RE-CREATION 271
and Aaron in Numbers 12 is used by the writer of Hebrews to accent his
inferiority to Christ. Whereas Moses, although faithful, was merely in the
house, Christ was over it as its builder.
By presenting Jesus as the second Moses, the writer is not simply arguing
for Christ's superiority for its own sake. He is preparing his readers for his
exegesis of Psalm 95 by laying the foundation for his understanding of the
church as the new wilderness community.36 As Moses led his people out of
wilderness. Hughes writes,
As he [Moses] had spoken the words of God to
the people of
them from the
would proclaim the words given him by the Father (Jn. 12:49f.) and deliver the
Israel of God (Gal. 6:16) from a more terrible tyrant than Pharaoh (Heb. 2:14)
and bring them to
an inheritance better than that of
Presenting Jesus as the second Moses establishes the typological connection
subsequent exegesis of Psalm 95. First, the parallel between the two Exodus
communities makes the application of Psalm 95 immediately relevant. Second-
ly, the contrast between the two mediators yields an implicit a fortiori argu-
ment38 that heightens the motive for heeding the warning: disobedience
had dire consequences then; how much more so now?39
Apart from the building imagery, the comparison to Moses is already
evident in v. 1. Jesus is the "apostle and high priest whom we confess." Jesus
is both the apostle (sent from God to the people) and the high priest (repre-
sentative of the people to God). This is also the role that Moses played.40
36 F. F. Bruce argues that the urgency of the situation for the new wilderness community
would have been heightened by the fact that it had been about forty years since Christ's death
and resurrection, an event referred to as his "exodus" (th>n e@codon) in Luke 9:31 (The Epistle
to the Hebrews [
Moffatt (Epistle to the Hebrews [ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1924] 45) argue that there is
nothing typological about the figure of forty years. Nevertheless, Bruce's suggestion is plausible
and may very well have increased the readers' sensitivity to the warning.
37 Philip E. Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews
38 See O. Michel, Der Brief an die Hebrder (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1960) 100,
and C. Spicq, L’Epitre aux Hebreux (Paris: Gabalda, 1953) 2.71-72.
39 This a fortiori is first seen in 2:1-3, where Hebrews contrasts Christ to angels.
40 Bruce, Hebrews, 55. Hughes sees this as combining the functions of Moses and Aaron
(Hebrews, 126-28). Attridge argues that the reference to Christ as apostle and high priest is not
an "implicit typology" of Moses and Aaron (Hebrews, 106). The role of Christ as "apostle"
is common enough elsewhere in Scripture (e.g., Mark 9:37 and other passages where Jesus is
said to be sent by the Father) that Attridge does not think an implicit typology is needed to
explain Christ's apostleship here. The presence of this theme in the NT is a point well made.
Whether or not the typology is needed, however, is not the issue. In this context, where
comparison to Moses is precisely the point, the typology might be too obvious to miss.
He was "sent" by God in that he received God's message and relayed it to
the people (e.g., in Numbers 12 and the Sinai narrative). He was also the
mediator between God and the Israelites (e.g., his pleading with God in
Numbers 14 and Exodus 32). It is precisely in these two senses that Christ
was faithful. He was an apostle in that he was sent by the Father to be
"made like his brothers" and "make atonement for the sins of the people"
(2:17). He is the high priest not only in offering himself as a sacrifice, but
in his present, postresurrection function as the permanent and heavenly
high priest in heaven "to appear for us in God's presence" as mediator
(8:1-2; 9:24ff.). To follow through with the Exodus imagery of this passage:
Jesus was sent by the Father to lead his people out of sin and guide them
faithfully through their period of wilderness wandering to a heavenly
With this, the writer has prepared his readers for his subsequent exegesis
of Psalm 95. The timeless warning of Psalm 95 is now applied to the new
and final Exodus community.
2. Heb 3:7-19
In this pericope, Hebrews quotes Ps 95:7b-11 and adds further comment
on the relevance of the psalm for his readers (vv. 12-19). The writer's
handling of the psalm exhibits similarities to pesher exegesis in which a
particular passage is given an eschatological interpretation, "relating to
the sect's own position in history, and rooted in its peculiar attitude to the
biblical text."41 This is precisely what Hebrews does. It is significant that
Hebrews does not quote the psalm as a proof-text to support a preceding
argument, as is the case for his OT quotations in the first two chapters. The
psalm does not provide data to support a theological point. Rather, it is
quoted simply "for the sake of exposition and application."42 This tells us
something about the writer's understanding of the church's situation in
redemptive history. In the same way that the original Exodus community,
which rebelled at Meribah and Massah, was a community wandering
through the wilderness, so too is the church a community of wilderness
wanderers living between
bility of rebellion. It is
already assumed on the basis of 3:1-6 that
the church are in analogous situations.43
What once applied to
finds its full meaning with respect to the church.
Dimant, "Qumran Sectarian Literature," in Jewish Writings of the
Period (CRINT 2/2; ed. Michael E. Stone; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984) 507.
42 S. Kistemaker,
The Psalm Citations in the Epistle to the
Soest N. V., 1961) 85.
43 Spicq argues that the use of Psalm 95 "presupposes an exact correspondence between the
successive generations of the people of God, and perfect steadfastness in God's conduct toward
them" (L'Epitre, 71, citing 1:1-2 as anticipating this idea). Spicq's point is well taken, but this
is not to say that the typology is completely unexpected, since the point of vv. 1-6 is to present
Jesus as the second Moses and the church as the
CREATION AND RE-CREATION 273
The main exegetical concern, however, is the writer's interpretive han-
dling of the psalm. There is little question that he is quoting the LXX
rather than the MT. Yet, this quotation of the psalm is not entirely con-
sistent with the LXX. In wishing to make this psalm more relevant to his
readers, the author says things about Psalm 95 that are not found in Psalm
95. His particular understanding of the psalm for his readers is reflected in
three significant variations from the LXX. The first is the insertion of dio<,
"therefore," in v. 10, which is absent from the LXX. The second is the
prepositional phrase e]n dokimasi<%, "with scrutiny," in v. 9, where the
LXX and MT both have a verb (LXX e]doki<masen "they tried" and MT
ynvnHb "they tried me"). The third variation is tau<t^, "this generation," in
v. 10, where the LXX reads e]kei<n^ "that generation."
We are given some insight into the writer's theological concerns first by
his insertion of dio< in v. 10. This particle is absent in both the LXX and
and saw my works. I was angry with that generation for forty years."
Similarly, the MT reads, "Where your fathers tested me, they tried me
even though they saw my works. I was angry with that44 generation for forty
years." The point is that both of these texts state that God was angry for
forty years. In other words, God's anger was a characteristic of the wilder-
ness period. The addition of dio< in Hebrews, on the other hand, changes
the meaning significantly. The writer reads the forty-year period as refer-
ring not to the period of God's wrath, but to the period of God's activity
in the desert. "Your fathers tested with scrutiny and saw my works for forty
years. Therefore [dio<] I was angry with this generation." God was not
angry for forty years. Rather anger is what follows the forty-year period in
which they saw God's works.
Why does Hebrews insert dio<? Why does he remove the notion of God's
anger from the wilderness period, where it certainly seems to belong, and
place it after? One rather obvious answer is that he wants to portray the
wilderness period in a positive light—one that is not characterized by
wrath. But why would he want to do this? Because his purpose for quoting
Psalm 95 is to warn the church, the new wilderness community.
To elaborate: The syntax of the LXX and MT equates the period of
God's activity with that of God's wrath. After all, the entire forty-year
period of wandering is the punishment for
this negative impression will not do for Hebrews.45 The church's period of
44 There is no demonstrative in the MT. I say "that generation" simply for the purpose of
45 Besides the psalms mentioned above (see also n. 24), Hos 2:14ff. is another OT example
of such a positive interpretation of the wilderness period. That Hebrews refers to the heavenly
sanctuary as the tabernacle (8:1-2; 9:1-2, 11) rather than the temple is further evidence of his
positive opinion of the wilderness period.
wilderness wandering is not one of wrath but of blessing. They are not
subject to God's punishment as was the first wilderness community. They
are rather "partakers of a heavenly calling" (Heb 3:1) or, in the language
of Heb 2:4, they have witnessed "signs, wonders, various miracles, and gifts
of the Holy Spirit." What were the works they saw? Not wrath, but the
coming of the Messiah and the inauguration of the church age. For He-
brews this is clearly not a show of God's anger, but of his blessing—indeed
the very climax of his redemptive plan.46 The new Moses had come and the
miracles." These are the "works"
that the new
period of wilderness wandering.
The insertion of dio< serves to make the clear distinction between the
forty-year period of God's activity and the subsequent period of his anger.
Anger is what follows upon disbelief in God's activity, not what characterizes
the period of God's activity. Hence, in applying the psalm to the church,
the writer of Hebrews is telling his readers that their wilderness period is
one of blessing, not wrath or punishment. If they are unfaithful by following
the example of the Israelites, and "testing with scrutiny God's works," this
present age will be followed by God's anger in which they forfeit the prom-
ise of rest.
That the writer is fully aware of his exegetical technique is made certain
in 3:17. There, regarding
with whom was he angry for forty years?" Here the writer follows the syntax
of the LXX, which reads the forty years as a period of God's wrath. This
is the exact opposite of what he did in 3:10. Why would the writer give the
same verse, which for him was Holy Scripture, two different meanings? I
suggest the following theological motivation: in 3:10 he is talking about the
church; in 3:17 he is talking about
Let me develop this point more fully. Simply by quoting this psalm,
is making a statement regarding the continuity
the church: both have a wilderness period. Yet, the negative overtones in
Psalm 95 regarding the wilderness period would not suit the reality of the
church age as one of great blessing. This is why the author inserts dio<
in v. 10. The syntax of 3:17, however, is not intended merely to reflect more
accurately the syntax of the LXX, as if his exegetical conscience suddenly
began to bother him. Rather, he is making explicit in 3:17 what was im-
plied by the insertion of dio< in v. 10: there is a distinction between the two
periods of wilderness wandering. The Israelite wilderness period was one of
wrath: "With whom was he angry for forty years?" (3:17). The church's
wilderness period is one of divine blessing: "They saw my works for forty
46 E. Grasser comments briefly that the purpose of dio< is to emphasize the experience of
God's salvific activity (Heilserfahrung), what he refers to as "vierzig Jahre Wundererweisungen
Gottes" (An die Hebraer [Hebr 1-6] [EKKNT
Neukirchener, 1990] 176). See also Attridge's comments (Hebrews, 115).
CREATION AND RE-CREATION 275
years" (3:10). Although
dus, thus characterizing her wilderness wandering as a time of wrath, the
period following the church's Exodus is characterized by "signs, wonders,
various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit." For the writer of Hebrews,
then, there is continuity and discontinuity between the two wilderness
periods. The two are analogous, but not merely so.47 This is in keeping with
the tenor of Hebrews throughout the book: the new supersedes the old.48
Besides the addition of dio< in v. 10, a second factor that highlights this
emphasis on God's activity is the prepositional phrase e]n dokimasi<% in
v. 9. Attridge suggests that "dokimasi<% has connotations of close and even
skeptical scrutiny," which yields the translation, "Where your fathers
tested with scrutiny and saw my works."49 We should notice that the object
of the testing in Hebrews is not God, as is the case with the MT, but the
works. Here Hebrews agrees with the LXX. But he goes beyond the LXX
by changing the verb e]doki<masen to the prepositional phrase e]n
dokimasi<%. The effect is to draw further attention to the faithlessness of the
Exodus community in view of these works. He does not say with the LXX:
"Your fathers tested, they tried my works." Hebrews reads: "Your fathers
tested with scrutiny my works." He is telling his readers that the age in which
they live, and the blessings of which they partake, are themselves a certain
and true witness to God's ongoing faithfulness in bringing the new Exodus
community to its rest. Skepticism or disbelief regarding these sure signs is
47 Hughes argues that there is an "ambivalence of association" regarding the forty-year
period, but the "overall sense of the passage is not altered" (Hebrews, 143). But I would suggest
that the writer is a more careful exegete/theologian than even Hughes gives him credit for.
Hughes may be missing the theological point of the writer's handling of the psalm. I must also
disagree with Attridge's view. Regarding dio< in v. 10 he says, "This is somewhat surprising
in view of the association of forty years with the wrath of God in the following exposition (3:17),
but it is possible that the author conceived of two periods of forty years, one of disobedience
and one of punishment" (Hebrews, 115). Yet this sounds too much like assuming a "univocal
symbolic meaning," which Attridge cautions against elsewhere. Nor is Yeo Khiok-Khng's
suggestion helpful. He says that 3:10 and 17 serve to equate the period of testing with the
period of God's wrath ("The Meaning and Usage of the Theology of ‘Rest’ (katapausij and
sabbatismoj) in Hebrews
solution does not seem to give dio< its due force, as Attridge also remarks (Hebrews, 115).
48 Although for different purposes, Paul's exegesis of Gen 12:7 in Gal 3:15-29 is analogous
to Hebrews' exegesis of Ps 95:9-10. Since Gen 12:7 refers to Abraham's "seed" (frz, spe<rma)
in the singular, Paul argues in Gal 3:16 that its proper referent is Christ. In Gal 3:29, however,
Paul states plainly, almost matter-of-factly, "you are [plural] Abraham's seed." That Paul sees
Gen 12:7 as having a dual referent is quite consistent with his understanding of the close
identification of Christ and his church elsewhere, e.g., his use of "in Christ."
49 Hebrews, 115.
50 Yeo's argument, that the prepositional phrase is "used to keep the place name hmyrmk
[sic] of the MT," is unconvincing, since e]n dokimasi<% corresponds not to hbyrmk in v. 8 but
ynvnHb in v. 9 ("The Meaning and Usage of the Theology of ‘Rest,’" 4). Another solution is
offered by K. J. Thomas, who argues that the phrase in Hebrews refers to God's testing of man
A final change that the author of Hebrews uses to actualize the psalm is
the insertion of tau<t^ in v. 10. Reading "this generation" where the LXX
reads e]kei<n^ ("that") further concretizes the psalm—indeed, the whole
Exodus experience—for the readers. By quoting the psalm the way he does,
he is showing his readers that this is the generation with which God is
The commentaries are largely divided over the significance this change
has. Spicq, for example, says that it makes the psalm "more urgent for the
present community," a position with which I am in agreement.52 The
opposite opinion is represented by Attridge, for one, who sees this as "a
minor variation from the LXX . . . [which does not] seem to serve any
particular purpose in Hebrews' application of the psalm."53 But we have
already seen with dio< that Hebrews' exegesis of the psalm is careful and
deliberate. Of course, this does not mean that every change is necessarily
theologically significant. There are, for example, two "minor," or perhaps
better "stylistic," variations, namely the more common verb forms ei#don
and ei#pon in Hebrews rather than the Hellenistic forms in the LXX, as
Attridge, too, remarks.54 But tau<t^ does not seem to be minor or stylistic,
but of a completely different order. Hebrews' exegesis of Psalm 95 in general
shows tau<t^ to be a purposeful and deliberate change from the LXX.
Another argument, this by Yeo, is unconvincing.55 Yeo argues that He-
brews changes the LXX "that generation" to "this generation" because
"that generation" does not occur anywhere else in the NT.56 He argues
further that since the verb prosw<xqisa in v. 10 is past tense, that therefore
"this generation" must refer to the Israelites, who lived in the past, and not
the church. In other words, Yeo cites common NT usage to explain why
Hebrews changes the LXX "that generation" to "this generation," while
at the same time arguing that Hebrews' "this
generation" refers to
because the verb is in the past tense. The problem with this argument is
that of all the uses of "this generation" in the NT, not once does it refer to
a past generation, as Yeo says it does here. Furthermore, one need not
rather than man's testing of God as the LXX has it. This yields the translation, "where your
fathers, during their testing, tried and saw my works for forty years" ("OT Citations in
Hebrews," NTS 11  307). I do not find this solution as helpful as Attridge's, especially
since one would expect the pronoun e]n dokimasi<% au]tw?n.
51 An insight that cannot be given full consideration here is brought out by Karen H. Jobes
("Rhetorical Achievement in the Hebrews 10 ‘Misquote’ of Psalm 40," Bib 72  387-96).
She argues that the change from e]kei<n^ to tau<t^ "achieves phonetic assonance" with e@th in
the previous line (p. 391). Jobes gives several strong examples of such "phonetic manipula-
tion," which "[communicated] the author's intended semantic sense . . . while simultaneously
achieving assonance" (p. 392).
52 L'Epitre, 74.
53 Hebrews, 115-16.
54 Ibid., 115.
55 "The Meaning and Usage of the Theology of ‘Rest,’" 5.
56 See also Kistemaker, Psalm Citations, 35-36.
CREATION AND RE-CREATION 277
assume that Hebrews has in mind either
were to be made. To argue as I do, that the near demonstrative is used to
actualize the psalm, is not to argue that in v. 10
referent is not either
all, citing Psalm 95 and thereby drawing on an example from the past,
concern is the church. The strength of the warning is precisely in bringing
the two Exodus communities together, to warn the new on the basis of the
old without losing sight of either one. The tense of the verb is not the
For Hebrews, the church is the new
Moses. They have seen God's mighty acts in the new wilderness. This
(tau<t^) is the generation with which God is concerned. What Psalm 95
may have referred to at an earlier time was merely prelude to this new era,
"at the end of the age" and "in the fulness of time." The threefold repe-
tition of sh<meron in 3:13, 15, and 4:7 further accents the present fulfillment
of what was spoken of in Psalm 95. Both tau<t^ and sh<meron specify for
Hebrews what is left ambiguous in Psalm 95. The promise of God's rest is
for today, for this generation. In other words, both terms have a decided
redemptive-historical dimension. "Today" or "this generation" is the
present situation of the believer, a situation in which he wanders in the
wilderness, between slavery and the better, heavenly country awaiting
him.58 Hebrews' appeal is not merely to the individual in his moment of
existential decision (although it is that, too), but to the individual living in
the eschatological age when the new Moses is leading his people through
the wilderness to their final rest. We see then that both Psalm 95 and
Hebrews apply the example of the wilderness rebellion to motivate their
communities to obedience. The difference between the two is that the
writer of Psalm 95 makes the warning "timelessly concrete" by leaving the
identity of the rebellious generation and the "today" ambiguous. The
writer of Hebrews, on the other hand, accomplishes his admonitory purpose
in precisely the opposite fashion—by making the psalm as time specific as
57 Thomas is a bit ambiguous in seeing tau<t^ as a reminder of Jesus' words (e.g., Matt
23:36) that strengthens the OT warning, yet "is not intended to designate some other than
the wilderness generation" ("OT Citations," 307).
58 But this point is not to ignore the strong element of realized eschatology in the epistle,
for example, 12:22, "But you have come to
of the living God."
59 It is still a question why Psalm 95 was written in the first place. If Hebrews' use of the
Exodus theme is predominantly eschatological, what is the case for Psalm 95? Commentators
have remarked on the liturgical use of the psalm in the synagogue, which bespeaks a more
existential function. Still, the issue of the Sitz-im-Leben of Psalm 95 is somewhat of a mystery.
That it is cultic does not answer the question. One would still need to ask why Psalm 95 was
written for the cult. A possible answer is that the psalm has an exilic context. In this sense, the
experience of the Exodus community had obvious relevance for the "Exodus community" of
The author's understanding of Psalm 95 for the church is reflected first
and foremost in how he quotes it. The words dio<, e]n dokimasi<% and taut^
are variations from the LXX that reflect his theological motivation to make
this psalm more relevant to his readers. This motivation is the same as his
motivation throughout the book: to show that the full significance of the OT
is realized by the church and only proleptically by
3. Heb 4:1-13
These concluding verses show that Hebrews stands within the tradition
argued above that understands creation as a paradigm for deliverance.
There are three factors that demonstrate this point: the argument from
Gen 2:2 in Heb 4:4, the double meaning of e@rga, and the double meaning
By citing Gen 2:2, Hebrews is arguing that the rest that is the reward to
the faithful new Exodus community is to be understood not as physical
land, but as an eschatological rest, specifically, the rest that God has en-
joyed since the completion of his creative work. Gen 2:2 reads, "God rested
[kate<pausen] from his works." Our psalm ends, "They shall never enter
into my rest [th>n kata<pausi<n mou]." For Hebrews, creation is the consum-
mation of the Exodus. Yet, the manner in which Hebrews brings creation
and Exodus together differs from what we have seen earlier. For the OT
passages I cited above, creation is not the consummation of the Exodus but
a paradigm for the Exodus. In other words, creation is not the goal of the
Exodus as it is here in Hebrews, but the type of the Exodus. This is not
merely a difference—these two perspectives are in fact on opposite ends of
the redemptive-historical spectrum, and the distinctiveness of Hebrews'
application of these themes should not be lost.
Nevertheless, we still have to deal with the question of why the warning
directed to the new Exodus community is supported by an appeal to crea-
tion imagery. Clearly, an important factor in the author's bringing Gen 2:2
and Ps 95:11 together is the root katapau<w, which appears in both.60 But
this merely explains what allowed him to make the exegetical connection,
not what motivated him to make it. Why call upon Gen 2:2 to "explain"
Ps 95:11 when it appears to introduce a whole new subject into the dis-
cussion, namely, creation? After all, the writer could simply have said that
the church's rest is not earthly but heavenly and be done with it, without
even introducing the subject of God's creation-rest. Or if he really
the Exile. This might suggest, although perhaps not a full-blown eschatological perspective,
at least an application of
Hence, both the original audience of Psalm 95 and the audience of Hebrews would be second
Exodus communities to whom an Exodus warning had been applied.
60 It is certainly to the advantage of Hebrews' argument that the LXX uses a form of
xaTattauw in both Gen 2:2 and Psalm 95, thereby perhaps establishing a connection between
the passages, whereas the MT uses tbw and ytHvnm, respectively.
CREATION AND RE-CREATION 279
wanted to bring another passage into the discussion, he could easily have
found one that contains katapau<w but pertains directly to the rest of the
faithful rather than to the seventh day of creation. So why introduce this
distant verse into the discussion? It is because Ps 95:11 says, "They shall
never enter my rest," not "they shall never enter their rest." The exegetical
problem the author of Hebrews is trying to explain is why Ps 95:11 refers
to the rest in the land as "my rest," i.e., God's rest, when in fact it is
rest. It is this exegetical problem in the text that, so to speak, backs him into
a theological corner. For him, the phrase "my rest" demands that he sees
some sort of relationship between deliverance and creation. The church as
the new Exodus community, redeemed, or "created" as it were, has as its
goal the original rest of creation. It is the consummate rest—God's rest.61
No less than God's creation rest can be expected for those who are "par-
takers of the heavenly calling." The faithful share God's creation rest be-
cause they are coheirs with Christ. The physical rest Joshua (4:8)62 gave his
people as well as the rest of Psalm 95 (however this is to be understood) were
merely proleptic of this final rest.63
Hebrews' use of e@rga and kataskeua<zw make this relationship between
deliverance and creation more explicit. The term e@rga occurs four times in
this passage. The first reference to "my works" is, as we have seen above,
in 3:9 (ta> e@rga mou) and pertains to the blessings of the church age. The
other three references (4:3, 4, and 10) are spawned by the writer's quoting
Gen 2:2 and pertain to the works of God during the six days of creation (tw?n
e@rgwn au]tou?). The result is a wordplay, which is worthy of consideration
in the context of my argument. The e@rga in 3:9 refer to the works of
deliverance. The e@rga of chap. 4 refer to the works of creation. Both crea-
tion and deliverance are God's "works." To take it one step further, in Gen
2:2, God works (creation) and then rests. In Hebrews 3, God also works
(deliverance/second creation), and then, not he, but the faithful rest--in his
rest. This striking parallel bespeaks an integral relationship between cre-
ation and deliverance in the writer's thinking.
The verb kataskeua<zw is used in Hebrews 3:3 and 4. Attridge comments
that in certain contexts this word refers to God's creative activity. He cites
61 A similar idea is found in 'Abot R. Nat. 12. Regarding Moses' death we read, "Moses, thou
hast had enough of this world, for lo, the world to come awaits thee: for thy place hath been
ready for thee since the six days of Creation" (The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan [trans.
Judah Goldin; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955] 65).
62 The fact that both Joshua and Jesus are the same name in Greek ( ]Ihsou?j) certainly
strengthens the typological connection. See also Attridge, Hebrews, 130, and Moffatt, Hebrews,
63 The literature on the meaning of rest in antiquity is immense and complex. (Both At-
tridge [Hebrews, 126-28] and Spicq [L'Epftre, 95-104] devote an excursus to the subject.) Of
particular interest are instances where rest is described as a new creation, for example, 4 Ezra
8:52; 2 Apoc. Bar. 78-86; 1 Enoch 45:3-6; T. Levi 18:9; and 4QFlor 17:8 (cf. Attridge, Hebrews,
126, and Spicq, L'Epitre, 95-96). A discussion of this issue would take us far from our topic.
In any event, it is clear that Hebrews is making the connection between rest and creation.
in the MT read xrb.65 This verb is used in Hebrews 3 in two ways. First,
in v. 3, it refers to Jesus' building of the "house" (oi#koj). It is also used in
v. 4 to refer to God's act of creation. In v. 3, Jesus is the builder (o[
kataskeua<saj) of a house. In v. 4, God creates all things (o[ de> pa<nta
kataskeua<saj). The question is, What does it mean for Jesus to be the
"builder of a house"? Heb 3:3 reads, "Jesus has been found worthy of
greater honor than Moses, just as the one who builds the house has greater
honor than the house itself." There seems to be an analogy being made:
Jesus is to Moses as builder is to house. A strict reading of this analogy yields
that Jesus "built" Moses, which does not make much sense. Hence, we
should be cautioned against making too much of this analogy. Nevertheless,
for the analogy to have any force, we must make something of it. I suggest
that Moses is here a metonymy for the people Moses
brought out of
the Exodus community. Several commentators mention this possibility.66
Mary Rose D'Angelo argues on the basis of the Targums, rabbinic litera-
ture, and intertestamental literature that understanding "house'" as "peo-
ple of God" is not without precedent.67 If this is so, both Jesus in v. 3 and
God in v. 4 are engaged in creation activity: God creates everything, and
Jesus, the new Moses, "creates" his people. Creation language is again used
to express deliverance.
Psalm 95 is an a fortiori argument couched in creation language to warn
the people against disbelief The portrayal of the Exodus as an act of re-
creation in vv. 6-7a bridges vv. 1-5, which speak of creation, and vv. 7b-11,
which relate the Meribah/Massah incident. The writer of Hebrews applies
the warning of 7b-11 to his community by means of an interpretation of the
passage that brings out the eschatological dimension of his exegesis, thus
making it speak directly to the new Exodus community in its period of
wilderness wandering. The rest for which this new Exodus community
strives is the rest in which God has partaken since the completion of his
creative work. Creation is both the type of re-creation and its consumma-
tion; it is the paradigm for the Exodus community as well as the reward for
those who remain faithful in their wilderness wandering.
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
64 Wisdom is also a clear example
of the juxtaposition of creation and deliverance. See
16:24-18:4; 19:6-7; and 19:18-21.
65 Hebrews, 110.
66 Attridge cites Moffatt (Hebrews, 42) as well as H. Montefiore (A Commentary on the Epistle
to the Hebrews [
Ebrei [La Sacra Bibbia;
possibility. He does not offer a solution to the meaning of the analogy.
67 Moses, 95-149, esp. pp. 145-49.
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