Who are "them" in Hebrews 4:2?


"For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it" (Hebrews 4:2).

Who is the "as well as unto them" in this verse.  Is this talking about the children of Israel in the wilderness?  


"Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it" (Hebrews 3:17-4:2).

A general rule for pronouns is to back up until you find a noun that has the same gender and case. We typically do this, but sometimes we forget when we reach a chapter mark to go back to the prior chapter. You have to remember that chapter and verse marks were add long after the original text to make referencing easier. Sometimes those marks are in awkward areas.

So, yes, "them" is referring to the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness. It strikes us odd to hear that the gospel was preached to the Israelites since we usually think of the gospel as the New Testament, or more specifically the first four books of the New Testament. But "gospel" means "good news" and the good news about God and His desire to save people did reach back to early days. That is why Noah is referred to as a preacher: "and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly" (II Peter 2:5). And Christ preached through Noah to the lost in his generation: "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water" (I Peter 3:18-20).

The good news of the gospel is mankind's salvation: "In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Ephesians 1:13). It is the gospel of Christ because Jesus was the means by which this salvation was offered. The Jews had a part to play in that salvation plan and they were taught a part of the gospel. "For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: "Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion." For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses?" (Hebrews 3:14-16). What the writer of Hebrews points out is that sadly the Israelites did not heed the good news, so we don't want to make the same mistake.

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