7 “So, as the Holy Spirit says:
‘Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your ancestors tested and tried me,
though for forty years they saw what I did.
10 That is why I was angry with that generation;
I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.’” Hebrews 3:7-11
The above verses are an introduction to one of the great warnings of the Bible (3:7-19) and we will cover the remaining verses next post. The world of 1st Century Jews and Christians revolved around a longing for the Exile from Babylonian captivity to be over. For the Pharisees the return from Babylon in the time of Nehemiah and Ezra was not the fulfillment of the promise of the exiles end because the Shekinah glory had not come back to the Temple. The result was that they were waiting for the Messiah to deliver them from exile and restore His Kingdom on earth.
As they studied the prophecies of Daniel 9 they believed that the time was about right for the return of the Messiah and that he would forgive them of their sins and make everything right. A number of Pharisees and other spiritual leaders believed this would usher in the new Exodus out of captivity from the Romans and none other than Moses would be the great leader.
This section of Hebrews that we are looking at in this post says no, Moses is not coming back but someone greater than Moses has already appeared. And as we will see later in Hebrews the great exodus and freedom from exile has already taken place through the Messiah, the great High Priest. However, instead of freedom from the power of Rome, He has delivered them from the power of sin, death, and Satan. He has broken into history and brought the Kingdom of God into the lives of His people. Instead of dwelling within the Temple the Shekinah glory now dwells within the hearts of those who trust in Him since our bodies are the new Temple of God where Heaven meets earth.
The writer of Hebrews is calling out for the persecuted Christian community that he is addressing not to give up. The quote in verse 7 is taken from Psalm 95:7-11 reminding the church not to end up like the Israelites who started out from Egypt with great promise but through disbelief ended up dead in the wilderness.
Verse 8 is an interesting verse because it talks about the children of Israel being tested in the wilderness. “And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” (Deuteronomy 8:2) God was testing the Israelites to see if they would trust Him. They needed to be humbled and He needed to know what was really in their hearts. Would they obey Him and follow Him because they loved Him, or would they also be rebellious like their fathers?
Following God is not about the keeping of rules but about where the heart is. Who rules the heart? I believe, what God was asking of the children of Israel was simply, do you love me? If you do, you will trust me and I will take you into the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 6 we read, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (6:4-7)
In Deuteronomy 8 God is testing them to see if their hearts were willing to follow His commandments. And Deuteronomy 6 tell us what that commandment was—love Him with all their hearts. In order to trust someone you need to love that person and in order to love someone you have to trust the person. Psalm 95 just simply says the children of Israel in the wilderness never got it. They never put their trust in God. They came right up to the borders of the Promised Land but they didn’t have the courage to put their lives in God’s hands and follow Him in.
This is the point of the writer of Hebrews. The church has gone through persecution and now is starting to lose their trust in God with the result that they are beginning to waver. “Therefore we must pay the closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (Hebrews 2:1) “Please,” he is saying, “don’t throw in the towel and give up.” It doesn’t matter what you’ve gone through in the past or the pressures you imagine in the future but “today when you hear His voice,” grasp onto Christ and hold Him close.
Whatever is happening to these Christian brothers and sisters they have to not harden their hearts and walk away from Christ. If they are to enter the rest of the Promised Land, Shekinah glory within their hearts, then they need to keep their hearts focused on God who sees them through the persecution they are facing.
Verses 9 & 10 make it clear what the problem was, “where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.”
This passage is not only for 1st Century persecuted Christians but it is also meant for us. When we reflect upon our lives and what God has done for us, how is it possible to turn our backs upon Him? We have been like the “ancestors” where we have tried and tested the patience, love, and compassion of God over and over yet He never turns away from us. Like Israel our hearts are always going astray and we easily forget His ways. When Israel came to their ultimate test of whether or not they trusted God, they turned away and followed their own understanding. The result was 40 years of self-imposed exile in the wilderness. Moses couldn’t take them into the Promised Land. It would be Joshua who finally led them in.
Today, however, there is one greater than Joshua, Aaron, and Moses who has come to lead His people out of exile and into the Earth made new. The Messiah, Jesus, God Himself who comes with the offer of forgiveness of sins and the promise of love. What does God ask in return—trust.
People are always saying prove God, let’s put Him in a box and see if we can figure out what makes Him tick or makes you tick for believing in Him. How do you measure love? How do we measure God? The love and compassion of God can’t be measured on a yardstick; it is experienced.
When I saw my little daughter fall down a flight of stairs headfirst and then stop in mid-air, turn, move into a sitting position and then move back and sit on a step, how do I measure that? How do I explain that in scientific terms or in a comprehensive way to someone who has lost a child to illness? These are things I can’t explain but “Today when we hear His voice,” we put our trust in Him, remembering how we have seen God at work in the past in our lives.
For those who remember the old North Oshawa church remind yourselves, be courageous, be strong, no regret, no retreat. I hope those few words have served us well all these years. And for those who have joined us on this journey I hope these words become part of your Mantra as well.