The use of metaphors is Scripture is pervasive. It has to be. Considering the difficulty of communicating spiritual realities using temporal/physical terminology, there is truly no other way. This use of metaphor makes it difficult for those who want to apply the “scientific method” to spiritual truths to do so. Of course, lots of things they take for granted can’t be subjected to the scientific method either. Like things they believe to be millions or billions of years old. seriously? How could they know or even test such a theory over merely 0.1% of that time. But it’s generally accepted just the same.
Anyway, the use of metaphor and simile is ancient, and its use in Scripture is pervasive. The writer of Hebrews uses “house” as a metaphor in chapter 3. But the writer moves through several different uses of “house” as a metaphor in 6 verses:
Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house — whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.Hebrews 3:1-6 NASB
In verses 1 through 6, the term “house” occurs 7 times in the NASB, ESV, and KJV translations. Other translations follow suit, using either “house” or “household” in the same places. But the meaning of “house” changes. In verse 2, the reference is to the ministry of Moses. The house can either be God’s house, or Moses’, but the reference is still to the ministry of Moses, and whether it was in the tabernacle (God’s house) or among the people (God’s people as a house) is not obvious. There are even other options for interpretation. The part that is clear is that the ministry of Moses is in view.
The second reference to house in verse 3 contrasts the builder versus the actual house built. More glory goes to the builder than to the house itself. Rather than debate the validity of this assertion, let’s look at the use of metaphor. If “house” still refers to the ministry of Moses, which is possible, then the “builder” of the “house” has greater glory than the “house”. Or, the One who gave the ministry to Moses is greater than the ministry Moses performed. But the reference to “house” could refer to the tabernacle, a topic taken up by the writer later on. It could also refer to the establishment of the people of Israel, or even other options. I believe it’s more likely that it continues to refer to the ministry of Moses, but, because of verse 4, none of the other options diminishes the contrast. God is the Builder, regardless of what “house” refers to.
So, does “house” continue to refer to Moses’ ministry in verse 5? Because, if so, then “house” switches to refer to the ministry of Jesus in verse 6, and then again to refer to us in the same verse. It could be argued that it remains a reference to Jesus’ ministry since we are the result. And yet, I believe that the writer uses a construction in a way that seems to change the metaphoric meaning. He expands it from “the activity and purpose of Jesus”, to “those who have chosen to live out Jesus’ pattern”. The relative pronoun, “of which” or “of whom” precedes “house”, and is in a different grammatical form than house. House is the “subject” and “of whom/which” is a possessive relative pronoun. In English we might say, “a house of whom are we”, or “we are a house of whom” based on the verb number.
So, who’s completely lost, or has completely lost interest? Here’s the point: the ministry of Jesus is greater than the ministry of Moses, but neither ministry guarantees success of those ministered to, namely us. Read back over it, and see if you see something different, but it seems to be the writer’s point that, the superiority of Jesus does not guarantee that His followers will not rebel against Him.
Since it’s clear (to me) that the audience hasn’t rebelled, at least not yet, it seems that this is a warning not to go down the path of rebellion. Whatever it is that defines that path, it’s yet to be taken by the audience, but they are in danger of taking it. They are Hebrews in a Greek-speaking place (they use the Septuagint for Scripture). Could it be that they are pushing back against the rise of Gentiles in the church, their inclusion into the “People of God”, and perhaps even the eclipse of the Jews in importance within the church? If so, what are their options for protest? Could it be rebellion against the good news which they accepted at first? It’s not easy to decipher that as the potential rebellion, although that has been posed by commentators for centuries. It’s certainly possible, maybe even likely.
So, what about today? Isn’t change within the church one of the most difficult things for churches to survive? Don’t we tend to love things the comfortable way they are? Who doesn’t like “homogeneous” congregations? Don’t we all like those “like us”? Who wants to give up all they have achieved to change, and possibly start all over? And yet, to prevent the change, to fight against it, to avoid losing our “house”, we fail to enter our Savior’s “house”. Those who failed to enter the “rest” were those called to leave their own settled lives and endure change. They wanted their own “house” and did not enter God’s house. We too have that choice, to do things our own way, what we like, where we are comfortable or have influence. Our Savior wants us to focus on Him, His house, His purpose, and His methods.
Perhaps, like Joshua, we need to hear the challenge to choose this day whom we will serve, which set of “gods” we will follow. Will you follow Jesus? If we choose Him, will we continue to endure the changes that will inevitably come? Will we persevere as a disciple to the end?