Sabbath Rest in Hebrews (LXX Texts of Note)

Rest is a major theme in Hebrews 3-4. There, the author quotes at length Psalm 95 (94 in LXX), which invites its hearers to learn from the example of their forefathers, who rebelled in the wilderness and were kept from entering the land of promise. There are several elements of interest to students of the Septuagint here.

Massah and Meribah
First, we note that the LXX translator of Psalm 94 translated the Hebrew Massah and Meribah as παραπικρασμός and πειρασμός, rather than transliterating them as simple place-names, as is typical in English versions. In those narrative portions of the Pentateuch which describe the events at Massah and Meribah, the LXX translator similarly chooses not to transliterate, but to translate (Ex 17:7; Deut 6:16; 9:22; 33:8). In Ezek 47:19 and 48:28, however, Meribah is transliterated.

Inner-biblical Interpretation
Second, we see that the author is interpreting Psalm 95 through the lens of Numbers 14, which describes Israel’s failure to enter the land at Kadesh. The series of questions and answers in Heb 3:16-19 derives its language not from Psalm 95 but Numbers 14—thus the author refers to Israel’s “disobedience,” “unbelief,” and how their “bodies fell in the wilderness.” Especially important is the language of “apostasy” which the author of Hebrews warns his audience against in 3:12. This likely derives from Num 14 LXX (14:9, 31), where it describes Israel’s rebellion.

Eschatological Rest?

Gezerah Shawah – Only in Greek
Third, and most significant, in Heb 4:3-5, the author expounds upon the concept of the “rest” spoken of in Psalm 94. He does so by citing Gen 2:2 (or Exod 20:11), which speaks of God’s Sabbath rest on the seventh day of creation week. In the LXX, both Gen 2:2 and Psalm 94:11 use the same word for rest (Gen 2:2 καταπαύω; Ps 94:11 κατάπαυσις). Based on this verbal correspondence, and the way that Psalm 94 continues to offer its audience “rest” (at least, as the author of Hebrews reads it), the author concludes that the rest which Psalm 94 offers is God’s own Sabbath-rest. To him, the “rest” Israel came to have in the promised land was but a type or figure of the eschatological rest promised to God’s people. Rabbinic interpreters called this type of exegesis, which depends on verbal correspondences, gezerah shawah.

But, here’s the interesting thing: in Hebrew, the verbal correspondence—upon which the author depends for his argument—does not exist! Gen 2:2 uses שׁבת, while Psalm 95:11 uses מְנוּחָה. In other words, the author could only make his gezerah shawah argument because he was reading the Bible in Greek.

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About Daniel R. Streett

Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Houston Baptist University
This entry was posted in LXX Texts of Note and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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