We have seen a number of overt quotations in the book of Hebrews (I keep a catalog comparing them on the blog here—I’ll update it as I work throughout the book). In Hebrews 3:2, however, we have an allusion to a specific text, not an explicit quotation.
The verse reads, “He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house” (NASB).
Many commentators note the similarity this verse has with Numbers 12:7. Let’s look at that verse in context: “6 And he said, ‘Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. 7 Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. 8 With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?’” (Num 12:6-8).
God tells Israel in Num 12 that the mark of a true prophet will be in visions and dreams given by God. But Moses stands above other prophets, for he speaks with God “mouth to mouth” (an idiom meaning, “personally” or “face to face”). God emphasizes Moses’s faithfulness.
Verse 7 of Num 12 says, “He is faithful in all my house,” referring to Moses. An examination of the Greek translation will show just how closely the wording matches that of Hebrews 3:2:
Numbers 12:7 οὐχ οὕτως ὁ θεράπων μου Μωυσῆς ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ οἴκῳ μου πιστός ἐστιν
Hebrews 3:2 πιστὸν ὄντα τῷ ποιήσαντι αὐτὸν ὡς καὶ Μωϋσῆς ἐν [ὅλῳ] τῷ οἴκῳ αὐτοῦ.
The words highlighted in yellow match exactly (note that the word in brackets indicates some manuscripts omit it). The word highlighted in green is the same word, just in a different position and role in the sentence. But each text calls Moses “faithful,” then says he is “in all the house.”
If this is the sole referent of the allusion, and assuming the context of Num 12 is also relevant to the author of Hebrews, then there is a double comparison happening here. Moses is greater than the prophets, since God chose to speak to him “mouth to mouth” and not through dreams or visions, which is God’s typical manner of communication with such people. In addition, Moses was faithful to do his job.
As great as Moses was, however, Jesus was even greater. Moses was “in” God’s house; Jesus is “over” God’s house. Both Jesus and Moses were faithful. Numbers 12 indicates that Moses’s faithfulness is primarily found in his ability to communicate God’s Word to the people without changing it or fearing its repercussions. Likewise, Jesus was faithful to the Father, even unto death.
Some commentators—like William Lane in the WBC series—believe that 1 Chr 17:14 may be the referent of the allusion. This passage does not share as many lexemes (as many overlapping words), but the “house” imagery in Nathan’s oracle to David may be what was primarily on the mind of the author of Hebrews.
If so, then when God speaks of Moses being “in the house,” He alludes to Moses being part of the covenant people of God. When God speaks of Jesus being “over the house,” Jesus is then the enactor and overseer of that covenant. When God speaks of the church being “the house,” we share in that Davidic Covenant with the other people of God.
Though the word “house” may evoke such covenantal concepts in some readers’ minds, the close lexical contact with Num 12:7 leads me to believe that that was the primary referent in the author’s mind. It is possible that the house imagery may have developed from Num 12:7 to 1 Chr 17:14, but Heb 3 seems to lean more on the Numbers passage than Chronicles.
The point, then, is that Jesus and Moses are both faithful to do the job God has set for them. The question to the readers of Hebrews is: are you faithful to “consider Jesus” (3:1) and “hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (3:6 ESV)?