V77Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear His voice,. Also this portion begins with “therefore” (see verse 11Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession;) and that’s why it also connects to what is said in the previous verses. You will see that the writer through examples from the Old Testament shows how important it is to hold fast to what he mentioned in the second part of verse 66but Christ [was faithful] as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.. Those examples are from the journey of Israel through the desert.
God’s earthly people had to go through the desert to the promised land to be able to enjoy the rest of God and be with Him. That desert journey is a picture of the journey of God’s heavenly people through the world with the goal of glory with the Lord Jesus. To that journey of faith all kinds of dangers are connected, through which the genuineness of faith is being tested. This portion begins with chapter 3:7 and continues till chapter 4:13. It is to be divided into three parts:
1. the apostates will not enter the rest (Hebrews 3:7-4:2);
2. the believers will enter the true rest (Hebrews 4:3-10);
3. the testing power of God’s Word (Hebrews 4:11-13).
After ‘therefore’ a quotation of the Holy Spirit from Psalm 95 is quoted (Psa 95:7b-117For He is our God,
And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.
Today, if you would hear His voice,
8Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
As in the day of Massah in the wilderness,
9“When your fathers tested Me,
They tried Me, though they had seen My work.
10“For forty years I loathed [that] generation,
And said they are a people who err in their heart,
And they do not know My ways.
11“Therefore I swore in My anger,
Truly they shall not enter into My rest.”) and is applied by a “today” to now. In Psalm 95 it is a “today” to Israel, but until the end, which is until the coming of the Lord Jesus, God repeats this word in His love. What is so important about ‘today’? Listening to His voice. Whenever you read or hear this, it is always ‘today’ and it is always the moment to listen to God’s voice.
The remedy and the protection against all evil is the Word of God. It may be the case that only a few hear it, nevertheless it still sounds to each individual among the Hebrews who has ears to hear. Hearing the voice of the Son of God is characteristic for the sheep (Jn 10:2727My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;). All blessing depends on that.
V88Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, As in the day of trial in the wilderness,. The appeal is not to harden the heart. He who hardens his heart, is unreachable for God’s voice and will surely perish on the journey to the blessing presented. The writer clarifies his urgent appeal by an example to listen to God’s voice and not to harden the heart. He points out to the readers, including you, an event from Israel’s journey through the desert. It is about two events actually, but the evil conduct of the Israelites is similarly revealed in both events.
Those events you find in Exodus 17, right after they were brought out of Egypt (Exo 17:1-71Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink.2Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?”3But the people thirsted there for water; and 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?”4So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, “What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me.”5Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.6Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.7He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us, or not?”), and in Numbers 20 at the end of the journey through the desert (Num 20:2-132There was no water for the congregation, and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron.3The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD!4Why then have you brought the LORD’S assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die here?5Why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us in to this wretched place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, nor is there water to drink.”6Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to them;7and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,8“Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.”9So Moses took the rod from before the LORD, just as He had commanded him;10and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?”11Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank.12But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”13Those [were] the waters of Meribah, because the sons of Israel contended with the LORD, and He proved Himself holy among them.). They took place at Massah and Meribah. The writer doesn’t mention these names literally, but actually by their meaning. Meribah actually means ‘protest’, ‘fight’, ‘quarrel’, ‘dissatisfaction’. You recognize ‘bitterness’ in it. Massah means ‘trial’ or ‘temptation’.
Their bitterness began with their dissatisfaction about having no water to drink. They concluded from that, that God did not seek their happiness, but that He only sought the bad for them. Isn’t that a warning for you and for me? How do we react when we lack for something that we find necessary? Do we find this a reason to get dissatisfied and embittered? Don’t we run the risk to tempt God by becoming rebellious and by challenging Him to prove that He is there also for you and me?
V99Where your fathers tried [Me] by testing [Me], And saw My works for forty years.. The Holy Spirit shows us that the conduct of Israel was not occasional, but that this conduct characterized the people of Israel during the whole desert journey. Moreover God showed them for forty years that He was there for them (Deu 4:32-3532“Indeed, ask now concerning the former days which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and [inquire] from one end of the heavens to the other. Has [anything] been done like this great thing, or has [anything] been heard like it?33Has [any] people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard [it], and survived?34Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within [another] nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?35To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him.). He liberated them, He guided them and took care of them and yet they went precisely against Him (cf. Deu 6:1616“You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested [Him] at Massah.; 9:2222“Again at Taberah and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah you provoked the LORD to wrath.; 33:88Of Levi he said,
“[Let] Your Thummim and Your Urim [belong] to Your godly man,
Whom You proved at Massah,
With whom You contended at the waters of Meribah;
). The biggest mistake you can make is thinking that you are better than they. Therefore it is really important that you take this warning to heart.
V1010“Therefore I was angry with this generation, And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, And they did not know My ways’;. Now the people of Israel responded in this way to all of God’s care for them, it is no wonder that God became angry at this generation. God also indicates what the problem was: their error was in their sinful heart. Because their heart always went astray from God they did not understand anything about His ways, which means His actions both in blessing and in judgment.
Moses did know God’s ways, for God revealed them to Moses (Psa 103:77He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the sons of Israel.
), because he feared and loved Him. For knowing God’s ways it is necessary to give Him your heart. That’s what He asks of you (Pro 23:2626Give me your heart, my son,
And let your eyes delight in my ways.
). If you give Him your heart you put your whole life in His hands, so that He can direct it. In this way you walk in His way which comes out in glory.
V1111As I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’”. If you do not fix your heart on Him but go astray, you will never enter God’s rest. It is impossible that God will allow a person to enter His rest, who goes astray in the way the writer is telling here about Israel (Num 14:21-2321but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD.22Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice,23shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it.). He swears that He will never allow that. “My rest” is God’s rest. It is the rest that He will have when He dwells in the midst of His people. That is the promised land, where the people will live in peace and in security, without any fear of enemies. This rest will only be in the millennial kingdom of peace of the Messiah, the great Son of David.
V1212Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.. By the words “take care, brethren” the writer now applies the quotation to the readers. What had happened to those who once left Egypt can happen to some of these readers too. The writer has a tender care for each of his readers. He addresses all of them as ‘brethren’, which means that he reckons them as true believers. However, he also appeals to their confession, actually as being responsible for their deeds.
There is a possibility that in any of them there is “an evil, unbelieving heart”, a heart that doesn’t trust in God. The writer does not presume that in all of them there is an evil heart of unbelief. He says: “In any one of you.” By putting it that way they should all know that they were all addressed. Every person will come to self-examination and ask: “Lord, is it I?” (Mt 26:21-2221As they were eating, He said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.”22Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, “Surely not I, Lord?”).
Only an unbeliever has an evil heart of unbelief. If such a person doesn’t truly convert to God, he will surely ”fall away from the living God”. Such a person appears to have never been a believer. Through the test of faith he is exposed. The true believer perseveres, despite hardships. He knows that he has no power in himself to persevere, but that God has all power.
The pseudo believer will depart under the pressure of the circumstances. He has no confidence in God, for he has no life from God, because he never went to Him with true repentance of his sins. Still he pretended that and he joined a Christian company. However, when the moment of truth comes, he departs from God.
Departing is rebelling against God. A person does that if he turns his back on God when the adversities get that great that he cannot fight against them and therefore blames God for that. The root of evil is unbelief and the core of unbelief is the lack of confidence that all circumstances lie in God’s hand, that He never tests beyond capacity and that He finally will surely make a way through all difficulties. ‘Falling away from the living God’ happens when a person goes back to a dead and outward religion (as the temple service had become), after having confessed the true service of God of Christendom. Beside and apart from Him there is no life.
V1313But 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.. After the appeal to examine themselves the writer points out that they also should seek one another’s interest. They have to encourage one another. That is necessary because the danger is lurking that unbelief creeps into one’s heart, because he gets trapped in “the deceitfulness of sin”.
Sin always deceives. It always looks attractive, for you wouldn’t take the bait otherwise. But once you have committed sin, you feel the bitterness of it. If you do not immediately repent by confessing your sin and forsaking it, sin will harden you. Let us not take this lightly and let us encourage one another “day after day”. That means that it should be habitual to encourage each other. This also implies that we as believers should have daily contact with one another.
Unfortunately, regarding that, individualism has gained a lot of ground among believers. Each individual is occupied with his own matters and having contact with each other as believers falls through. Therefore it doesn’t come as a surprise that many get astray from faith, though still hopefully without them departing from the living God. It is important to give attention and care to one another’s souls and to seek one another’s spiritual well-being. We ought not to leave this care to some ‘clergyman’. It is a command to each Christian to do that to another and which ought to happen ‘today’ for tomorrow may be too late. After ‘today’ the eternal judgment follows.
He who doesn’t allow himself to be warned, will leave the way of the shame of Christ and will turn back to the nice, but deceiving rituals of a tangible religion with earthly benefits. Returning to that means returning to a religion without forgiveness, without hope and even without the possibility of conversion. Therefore it is that important to encourage one another day after day.
Now read Hebrews 3:7-13 again.
Reflection: By which warnings are you being challenged here and in which way could you warn others?