Hebrews 3:7-11 – Now we come to a timeless warning for God’s children; it is a warning against allowing our hearts to become hard. The Historical backdrop for this warning is a theme that most of the 1st century readers were most familiar. A time when our fathers were in the wilderness, led by Moses. A journey that could have been accomplished in eleven days but wound up taking 40 years.
Why did it take so long? Unbelief. Their unbelief and sin provoked the Lord time and time again. The rest that God made provision for fled them, as they continued to follow their own way instead of God’s. To this day this kind of attitude persists in peoples hearts. That’s why this warning to the Hebrews of the first century is in our Scriptures, it is a timeless truth. Hardening of the heart is an ever present reality in the world and society in which we live.
The writer first looks back to the Psalms. Since his readers were first century readers, it is only natural that the writer of Hebrews verifies his warning by utilizing an illustration found in the Jewish Scriptures. In these 5 verses he quotes from Psalm 95, which is a reference to events recorded in Exodus and Numbers. “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your father tried Me by testing Me…” In order to get a better understanding of the context, let=s consider three different portions of the Old Testament. We need to keep in mind that a test from the Lord can result in our testing Him in return.
First there was an internal test: Thirst (Exodus 17:1-7) the sons of Israel traveled from the wilderness of Sin to Rephidim, an area without drinking water. It was here that they contended with Moses “give us water that we may drink” How did Moses respond? Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord? The people grumbled and accused him of leading them from Egypt into the wilderness to die. Moses cried to God, fearing for his life.
The Lord told him to take a group of elders and go to a particular place carrying in his hand the staff with which he had struck the Nile river to cause it to part. God said “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.” Moses did what he was told. He named the place Massah (test) and Meriaba (quarrel).
Why? Because it was at that location that the sons of Israel quarreled with him and tested the Lord saying “Is the Lord among us, or not? This was a divinely planned test designed to prompt the Israelites to respond to the Lord in the midst of their thirst with trust and confidence. The Israelites failed the test and instead tested God. They jumped to the conclusion that they’d been taken into the wilderness to die. They had a chance to believe and refused to do so.
The second test was an external one: Giants (Numbers 13:1-14:4) Soon after leaving Egypt, the Israelites arrived at Kadesh‑Barnea. It was there the Lord counseled Moses to send spies into the land of Canaan. Moses appointed them and gave them instructions to “Go up into the Negev, and then into the hill country.
They were told to accomplish 3 things:
1. To see what the land was like, whether the people were strong or weak, few or many.
2. To see the state of the land, whether it was good or bad, fertile or barren, whether the cities were camps or fortresses.
3. To make an effort to bring back some fruit of the land, 40 days later the spies returned bringing their reports and samples of the fruit of the land. “We went in to the land, and it certainly does flow with milk and honey. This was an allusion to abundance in the land.
But the reports of all but two of the spies were filled with pessimism and fear. They stated that the residents of the land of Canaan were strong, and their cities were fortified and large. There are giants there! The spies were overcome with appearances. However two of the 12 focused their eyes upon God, rather than the circumstances. Caleb one of the two said, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.” But the other 10 centered their attention on the men they had seen. “We became like grasshopper in our own sight, and in their sight. Their eyesight was distorted by unbelief.
The result of their report was weeping and grumbling against Moses and Aaron they wished that they were back in Egypt, or that they were already dead. They saw only the worst before them. But their response is a typical one. They wanted to go back to Egypt even though it meant slavery and bondage. And they wanted a new leader to bring them back. They had a chance to believe God for His promised rest, but they refused.
The writer of Psalm 95 considered these events over time. His response was to say, “Come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Psalm 95:6). This response is far different than that of the children of Israel in the wilderness, whose response was to grumble and kvetch. The Psalmist saw things in this way… For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of Hand” (Hebrews 3:7) Then he too gives the warning that is repeated in Hebrews 3. “Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness” Psalm 95:8.
When we are faced with a test, and it looks like an insurmountable barrier, we need to remember that God surrounds his test with a rest. This rest comes only if our response is right in the midst of the trial.
Psalm 95:12-19 – In Hebrews 3:7-11 we see an expression of divine anger at hearts that have become hardened. But God has provided atonement and forgiveness through the Messiah both for Israel and the world. But in Hebrews 3:12 we are given a warning. “Take care…lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God.
Hebrews 3:14 we have specifics concerning this warning. It is a reminder to the Jewish believers that they are not spectators of an event in history past. But they are partakers in God’s movement among them right now. They have come to experience God’s forgiveness and entered into a personal relationship with the living God. They are to “hold fast the beginning of their assurance firm until the end”, and avoid hardening their hearts.
The Jewish Believers were approaching the point where they would not be able to learn any more, where the freedom of choice would be reneged. The people of Moses’ day failed to enter God’s rest not because of their unwillingness, but because of their inability, which was a result of their hardened hearts.
Hebrews 3:13-14 give us some insights into how to avoid hardness of heart happening to others and to ourselves.
1. We need to encourage one another regularly. This is why we need to be involved in regular fellowship with other believers.
2. We need to persevere in the midst of our tests; to remember that as we continue in our trials we demonstrate that we really are children of God. When trials come we need to turn them immediately over to God, accepting them as tests from Him. We need, at the same time, to ask Him to teach us and show us His power in those tests.
Here are a few thoughts which can help us avert hardness of heart:
1) We need to remember that when tests come, they come to soften our hearts.
2) To experience God’s rest means that I accept what God wants, not what I want.
3) When we learn to rest in the midst of God’s testing, we will see God’s hand of provision which far surpasses human efforts.