The first six verses of Hebrews 3 make the point that Jesus is superior to Moses. Therefore we must not give up our confidence and hope because we have been made part of God’s house and family. But now the writer wants to issue a grave warning to his audience.
7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ 11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.'” (ESV)
After encouraging the readers to not give up, the author gives a stern warning based on Israel’s history. He quotes Psalm 95 which scholars say was used by the Jews as a call to worship when they went to synagogue service. As one reads Psalm 95 one can see that it is a psalm that is calling people to worship. Verse 2 reads, “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving.” Verse 6 reads, “Oh come, let us worship and bow down.” In the midst of this call to worship is the warning against hardening one’s heart.
The psalmist refers to the times at Meribah and Massah. These are the places where the people complained for water and Moses provided water from the rock. The people had left Egyptian slavery, crossed the Red Sea, but were now complaining about the water situation. You will notice that Meribah and Massah mean “rebellion” and “testing,” which can be seen in the Hebrews quotation. Worship God today and do not harden your heart is the call of the psalmist. Don’t forget what happened to those who heard the voice of the Lord but did harden their hearts. They saw the works of God for forty years. But notice the condemnation: “they always go astray in their heart; they have no known my ways.” For forty years the works of God had been seen yet the people went away from the Lord in hearts. They did not know the Lord though they had seen what God had done. If they really knew the ways of God they would have walked in them. But they did not. Therefore, God swore in his wrath that they would not enter into his rest.
The parallel is striking. This is not written to unbelievers in the world. This is being written to Christians as a warning. You have been delivered from slavery of sin as the Israelites had been delivered from Egyptian slavery. You have been baptized and become part of Christ just as the Israelites were “baptized” in the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:1). Do not now harden your heart after all that you have experienced. You have seen the mighty works of God. Do not turn back. Before we move forward I think it is important to highlight the change concerning the 40 years. The psalmist speaks about the 40 years a little differently.
Psalm 95:9-10: when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.” (ESV)
Notice how the writer of Hebrews moves the punctation to make a slightly different point: Hebrews 3:9-10: where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’
The writer of Hebrews says that the people saw the works for 40 years and yet rebelled. The psalmist says that God loathed that generation for 40 years. Why the difference? I think it is to press the point to the first century audience. The message to the Hebrews was written around 68 AD. It is has been 40 years since Jesus lived on the earth. He is telling the audience that you have seen the works of God through Jesus and the apostles for 40 years. Do not give up like Israel did 40 years after the Red Sea crossing.
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (ESV)
Now the writer draws a couple important lessons. First, take care and be on your guard for an unbelieving heart. Watch out for an evil, unbelieving heart. Now I believe all of us would say that we do not have an unbelieving heart, so we are in the clear. But let us back up for a moment and examine what he means. The reference is to those in Psalm 95 who put God to the test. They did not believe that God would provide for them and they, therefore, complained about water. They did not put their full trust in God concerning their lives. They did not believe God would provide. The writer will amplify this point more in just a moment.
The second lesson is the necessity to exhort each other every day. We need to be encouraged every day so that we are not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Sin lies to us. Sin tells us that we are doing is okay. It makes us put our trust in it rather than God. Sin deceives us into thinking that are hearts are not hardening against God by committing sin. Sin lies to us telling us that no one will know what we are doing. Sin lies to us making us think that no one will be affected by our sins. So we need to encourage and exhort each other every day. Every day is today. When tomorrow comes, it will be today. This is a call for a deeper fellowship and a regular fellowship with one another to fight against the hardening of the heart. This explains to us why meeting together is important. When we miss, our hearts to grow hard. We must accept this truth. The longer I am disconnected from my family in Christ, the easier it is to stay away from God. Encourage each other every day! This is the remedy against a hard heart. Isn’t it interesting that more praying or more bible reading is not the answer here? Encourage each other every day to prevent the hard heart.
But there is another reason why this is so important: because we have come to share in Christ. We are companions and partners with Christ. We are sharing in Christ, as the writer argued in chapter 2. He is our brother. But we only remain in this family if we hold our original confidence to the end.
In verse 15 the writer quotes Psalm 95 again to make the point emphatic. Hardening our heart is to not hold on to our confidence that we had at the beginning of our journey with God. Now I think we can flip the language and understand our warning: if we do not hold on to our original confidence, then we do not share with Christ and not in God’s family.
Three Questions (16-19)
16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (ESV)
- Question 1: Who were those who heard yet rebelled? The answer is all those who left Egypt under Moses’ leadership.
- Question 2: With whom was God provoked for forty years? The answer is those who sinned.
- Question 3: To whom did God swear that they would not enter his rest? The answer is those who were disobedient.
Point 1: Don’t fall back! They were chosen when they began the journey. But unbelief led to sin and disobedience. God swore in his wrath that they would not enter his rest and their bodies fell in the wilderness.
Point 2: No rest is the consequence for unbelief.
Point 3: Beware of a hardening heart. How do you know if you have a heart that is hardening? The writer uses a couple of key clues: not listening to God’s voice, sinning, and disobedience. All of these things are unbelief. So we must ask ourselves if we are listening to God’s voice in the scriptures? Are we choosing to disobey God because of our own selfish desires? Are we showing our unbelief in God because we sin rather than trusting in God to provide for us?