NOTES on Hebrews
3:7-19 (click here for study)
In this passage of Hebrews, the author is quoting Psalm 95:7-11: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, 'Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.' So I declared an oath in my anger, They shall never enter my rest."
A History of Warnings
The author uses this psalm to tie the entire history of Israel to the spiritual condition of the early Hebrew Christians to whom he was writing. The reference in the psalm is to Israel's rebellion in the Sinai wilderness when they rebelled against Moses and God after their miraculous rescue from the slavery of Egypt. Israel could not deny that God had designed their escape from Egypt. He led them out, gave them a system of government and worship and made them a nation, and promised them rest in Canaan.
In spite of the evidence of God's presence and his promise of rest and security, however, Israel grumbled in the desert and said they wished they had never left the land of their bondage. Because they were disobedient and unbelieving, Israel experienced God's discipline. They had to wander in the desert for 40 years, making no progress toward their land of promise and rest, until the generation that complained died.
Interestingly, God suggested destroying Israel with a plague and making Moses a great nation. Moses pleaded with God to forgive Israel to protect God's reputation among the Egyptians. God responded, "I have forgiven them, as you asked. Neverthelessnot one of the menwho disobeyed mewill ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers." (Numbers 14:12-23)
During the time of Israel's monarchy, the psalmist reminded Israel of their early rebellion and warned them not to be unfaithful as they had been before. They didn't listen or learn from their past, however, and ultimately Israel's apostasy led to the shattering and exile of their nation.
The letter to the Hebrews uses the same warning the psalmist used. Now, however, the situation is different. Israel is no longer the object of God's favor. Israel rejected its Messiah, and God's people now are those, whether Jew or Gentile, who believe in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The recipients of this letter are most likely Jewish Christians, so this warning is well known to them.
In the context of this letter, however, the warning has a new meaning. If these new Christians reject Jesus and insist on directing their own lives, the rest they will lose will be much greater than the rest of reigning in the land of Canaan.
"So, as the Holy Spirit says," begins verse 7, " 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion' "
If people newly-convinced about Jesus as Messiah harden their hearts instead of deepening in God, they will lose not a land but a relationship with their Savior. They will be rejecting not success but salvation. The apostasy of one who knows Jesus is Lord is more serious than the apostasy of one who had only the law of Moses. While both are ultimately disbelieving God, the Israelites were rejecting a shadow of their Redeemer. A person who rejects the person of Jesus is rejecting the Redeemer himself.
Encourage One Another Daily
In the middle of this treatise on the greatness of Jesus and the seriousness of rebellion, the author inserts a surprising and almost hidden admonition: "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." The NASB says, "Encourage one another day after day"
We are to encourage one another. This passage suggests that consistent support and openness between believers is a key part of staying grounded in truth and protected from deception.
Deception is subtle. By nature it closely resembles truth; it's twisted slightly and laced lightly with error. It's easy to miss the falseness in deception if one considers it casually.
God places us in each other's lives so we can help each other see the pitfalls of temptation on which we're teetering. Often a fellow believer can see potential dangers we don't see in situations we face.
Sometimes we experience fears and regrets and sadness, and it's difficult to experience God in our anxiety. A believing friend can be God's voice of love and truth to us in those times.
Often we feel harassed and opposed, as if life's demands are too much for us to face and the opposition from our "enemies" is too great for us to withstand. God asks us to pray for each other and to uphold each other in love at those times.
God designed the Church to function as a body, its members interdependent and strong only when they work together, unified by His Spirit. Since each of us is sealed by the Holy Spirit, we are to be God's tangible presence to each other as we walk through life's difficulties and triumphs.
God has placed us in fellowship so we will encourage and strengthen each other. He asks us to trust each other and to support one another. He asks us to use our gifts from him to encourage and build each other. He asks us to mediate his love to one another by responding to his Spirit as he impresses us to minister to each other. He asks us to be humble in each other's presence, accepting both each other's weaknesses and gifts with his grace. He asks us to see the ministry of our fellow believers as His mercy and grace in our lives.
Confidence vs. Hardened Hearts
The writer follows his admonition to encourage one another by saying, "We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first." (v. 14)
Our confidence is in our risen Savior, our high priest who has already completed our salvation. He has made it possible for us to confidently and freely enter the presence of God. (Eph. 3:12) Through Jesus we can "draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith." (Hebrews 10:22) Through Jesus we can know we are secure, even if our "hearts condemn us", because we know that He is greater than our hearts. (1 John 3:18-22) We can be confident in Jesus because we live in his love, and his love is in us. (1 John 4:16, 17)
If we become caught up in deception, however slight it may be, we run the risk of gradually moving farther and farther away from our complete confidence in the sufficient, finished work of Christ.
Deception can be anything that lessens our trust in our Savior. It can be doctrinal; it can be material or financial; it can be relational; it can be about work, time, entertainment, or even ministry. If we make decisions based upon what seem to us to be good ideas without asking for God to guide us and show us truth, we run the risk of gradually trusting God less and depending on our own thoughts and desires more. Such self-dependence gradually hardens our hearts to the nudges of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, we may find ourselves looking like observant Christians but experiencing a drought in our hearts induced by replacing the nurturing of the Holy Spirit with deception.
Enter God's Rest
This chapter ends with a reminder that the Israelites lost their rest because they disobeyed. Their disobedience, ultimately, was because of unbelief. The writer warns the Hebrews not to lose their rest because of hard hearts and unbelief.
As followers of Christ we know we can trust him. As we grow with him we discover that our trust in him extends beyond our salvation to include yielding to him every detail of our lives. When we learn to let go of our control over how our lives should unfold, we learn that God has surprising, unique, and creative challenges and discoveries in mind for us. When we trust God with our lives, we discover that even when life is sad or painful we have a core of strength and security that is totally missing when we direct our own lives.
God calls us to let him love us completely. He calls us to let him minister to others through us. He calls us hold firmly to our confidence in him, certain that he has the answers to our unknowns. He calls us to commit ourselves to knowing truth, to living with integrity. He calls us to encourage each other and to strengthen each other against the subtle seduction of deception.
God asks us to begin living now in his rest. His finished work is a reality, and we can give up our attempts to control our lives and the people in them. God has much better solutions in mind for us than we could ever devise. His answers to us are always redemptive, and they always build our trust in him, even when there seem to be unanswerable questions.
We no longer have to live in fear and uncertainty. We are saved, and God is our Lord. Our days are his; our lives are his; our gifts are his.
In him we are safe. In him we are alive.
In him we love.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised November 26, 2000.