Hebrews 3:7 – 4:1 The dangers of testing God, and the rewards of obedience
Hebrews 3:7 – 4:1
Moses warned his generation not to harden their hearts amidst God’s provision and protection over their lives. In the same vein, the Spirit speaks to us today, not to waiver in following God’s instructions but to persevere in accomplishing our calling and to live life abundantly. Today’s passage teaches us not to test God’s patience or the limit of His mercy, but to hold one another accountable to the call to godly living. It teaches us the dangers of ignoring the Spirit’s promptings resulting in the hardening of the heart.
7 Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear His voice, 8 Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, 9 Where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, and saw My works for forty years.” 10 “Therefore I was angry with this generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, and they did not know My ways ’; 11 As I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’”
Verses 7 to 11 is entirely lifted from Psalm 95, where the psalmist urges the people to walk in God’s ways because God is gracious and He is the Lord of all. This Psalm points to an incident where Israel displayed her defiance and ingratitude in the wilderness that is afterwards called Meribah (a place of strife). As a result, the entire generation above 12 years of age perished in the wilderness. The author is not just quoting the psalm to substantiate his point. Through the text, the Holy Spirit is speaking and giving the same warning to today’s generation as to previous generations: Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear His voice…” Therefore, believers must not harden our hearts but respond to God in obedience.
In this incident at Meribah, on the 3rd month after leaving Egypt, the people could not find water. And instead of depending on God to provide, they accused Moses and God for leading them into the wilderness to die: they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness. The sins of the people were very great because they openly despised God and His prophet: they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst? Exodus 17:3; they tested God for forty years by reveling in adultery and idolatry while enjoying God’s provisions and protection. The result – God was angry and banned them from the Promised Land: As I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.” The Spirit urges today’s generation not to harden their hearts against God’s commands lest they suffer the same fate as that of Moses’ generation.
12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, 15 while it is said, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.”
In view of the dangers of falling away from God and missing out on His rest, believers must actively hold one another accountable. By keeping an eye on one another incessantly, we make sure that any one who falls behind will be given a helping hand such that they may not remain in the deceitfulness of sin and be hardened by it. “Deceitfulness of sin” refers to the devil’s tendency to cover up sin by justifying its necessity or by trivializing it. One who is hardened by sin’s deceitfulness will most certainly test God’s mercies, not knowing when he would actually cross the line of irreversible consequences. Therefore, by encouraging one another to be filled with the Spirit, we hold onto Christ who is able to empathize with our struggles and to deliver us from sin’s bondage. It is important that we keep on depending on Christ until the end.
16 For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was He angry 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 not able to enter because of unbelief. 4:1 Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.
Here, the emphasis is again on the cost of disobedience. The Israelites were called for a great future: all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? Then, they provoked and tested God continually for forty years: And with whom was He angry for forty years? The result of disobedience is death and condemnation: Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? The cause of the tragedy is unbelief, which is disobedience: So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.
The goal of life is not to obtain salvation but to accomplish our calling. If a man’s aim is to obtain salvation, he will seek merely to have his sins forgiven. But if a man’s goal is to accomplish his calling, he will hang on to Christ’s beliefs system firmly to the end. To illustrate, if a man’s aim in his job is to get his salary, he will work just to obtain his payment at month end. But if his aim is to help the company accomplish her goals, he will work with passion going beyond his own responsibilities. Christianity has been relegated to the purpose of getting people saved. Hence, the frequent theological debate: Is once saved always saved? But if every Christian seeks to fulfill his calling, such question will never arise. No wonder the Bible did not explicitly address this theological question because it is never meant to arise. The passage admonishes us: For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end. Being partakers of Christ involves taking on Christ’s commission and persevere until the end. We obtain our salvation by keeping our eyes at the end point and by understanding our individual calling and accomplishing it in our lifetime.
When we remain in disobedience, the prompting for repentance diminishes over time. The prompting and the urging of the Holy Spirit diminishes over time until it is completely snuffed out. Hence, God swore to them, ‘They shall not enter My rest.” It becomes more and more onerous to turn back to Christ when one maintains a defiant stance against the voice of the Spirit. Thus, he forms a deceitful conviction that Christ’s work on the cross has guaranteed his blessing apart from his obedience. On the flip side, the more we obey the Spirit’s voice, the clearer His voice becomes. The key to hearing God’s voice and discerning divine guidance is to be obedient to God’s every command – to listen to His instructions on a daily basis and to accomplish them. If one could not decipher the Spirit’s voice, it could point to his chronic pattern of rejecting God’s instructions. He must then return to the commands that God has previously given and act on them.
The ease of remaining in sin in the presence of God’s grace is the devil’s key strategy of getting people into hell. A person’s experience of the manifold grace of God may not constrain him towards godly living; it remains that he needs to make a firm decision to respond to the Spirit’s promptings. The Israelites experienced God’s provision and protection continually for forty years, but they maintain their rebellious lifestyle and tested God despite His incessant grace: They always go astray in their heart, and they did not know My ways. God’s grace flows from His eternal nature to bless, but there will come a time when men’s heart is so hardened that it is no longer possible for them to repent.
A godly lifestyle can only be lived out as a community. Many Christians think they possess sufficient moral will to go it alone in their spiritual journey. They lack the humility of acknowledging their need for others. Hence, they experience frequent discouragement, as they lack the required energy to pull themselves out of the rut. God has designed the Christian life to be lived out as a community. Hence, He has given the community a basket of gifts and no one individual possesses all the gifts necessary to fulfill his calling. Hence, the text says, “encourage one another day after day.” As we may not have perfect clarity, we need to give one another permission to speak into each other’s lives.
- Are you constantly looking for the next blessing or for God to fulfill your needs? If your eye is steadily focused on God’s commands and obeying them, your needs will be met with grace and in pleasant surprises. “Rest” is obtained not by pursuing blessings through your own wisdom, but by obeying God’s instructions on a daily basis.
- Are you currently trapped in a sin with increasing ease supposing God’s grace will protect you? Perhaps, today is the day of decision to turn back towards the journey of His rest and accomplish His glorious call for your life.
Dear Lord, I thank you for your grace in my life. Forgive me for testing your patience every so often. I will divorce myself from the pleasures and the darkness of the flesh. Fill me with your Spirit and enable me to journey towards my calling and to enjoy your rest. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.