DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS

the-punishment-of-korah-dathan-and-abiram-a-det.jpg The punishment of Korah

Hebrews 3.7-19
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says:
Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, `They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.’ So I swore in my wrath, `They shall not enter my rest.’
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said:
Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.’
For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was he angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

This discussion about Moses leads naturally into the second warning based on Israel’s wilderness experience under him. The point essentially is, “Don’t disbelieve.” Unlike the first warning—which dealt with the superiority of Christ’s message to the angels’ message—this warning has to do with the nation’s failure to believe in God, and the danger at the present time of making the same mistake.

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says

The writer introduces Psalm 95 as the voice of the Holy Spirit. This tells us a lot about his view of the bible. For him the bible is not just a guide filled with some good advice, some intuitions about God, and a lot of stuff that can be discarded because it is not in line with the modern world. In other words, he is not a liberal.

Most of the historical churches today have explicitly rejected this view of the bible, and have branded it as fundamentalism. The liberal view is that we must pick and choose from the bible what we will take and what we will leave, according to our superior understanding of the world and reality. This is why we see women ministers in all of the historical churches in spite of the explicit biblical prohibition against it. This is why we have churches actually discussing the possibility of approving of homosexual perversion.

The liberal simply believes that he knows better than the Holy Spirit. Of course, he will never say it that way, but that is what this text says he means. If Psalm 95 is the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to us today, then to regard it as merely another religious opinion to be weighed by us according to our lights, is gross heresy and sin. The liberal has to show us why he should be considered a Christian at all, in the light of his arrogant subjection of the word of God to his pathetic opinions.

The writer to the Hebrews introduces the Psalm with these words to encourage us to take careful note of what he is about to say.

Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.

The Psalm is reminding us of the rebellion of Israel against God in the wilderness after the Exodus had taken place. The rebellion lasted for forty years, from after the crossing of the sea until the last soldier of that generation had perished in the wilderness. Here two specific events are remembered. The first rebellion happened at the beginning of the forty years, and Israel had a shortage of water. They quarrelled with Moses, God told him to strike a rock, and water gushed out. Moses called the place Massah, which means testing, because Israel put God to the test, and Meribah, which means rebellion, because Israel rebelled against God.

Near the end of their wanderings Israel suffered thirst again. They drove Moses into a rage with their murmuring and arguing, so he struck the rock twice instead of speaking to it as God had commanded him to. His punishment for disobedience was that he would not enter the promised rest with the rest of the nation. He called the place Meribah, because it was another rebellion against God.

For forty years Israel tried the patience of God, in spite of the fact that they had seen the extraordinary power of God that had delivered them from Egypt, and the daily miracle of manna in the wilderness. They had the pillar of smoke by day and of fire by night, and still they did not believe in God or trust him.

Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, `They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.’ So I swore in my wrath, `They shall not enter my rest.’

The result of Israel’s rebellion was their rejection by God. He diagnosed their essential problem as erring in heart. At the deepest place of their thoughts, the heart, they were fatally flawed. They went astray because they were evil in their very deepest being, and did not have a knowledge of God. They neither knew God nor understood his actions, and this was shown by their continual murmuring and rebellion.

Their conduct angered God so much that he swore an oath in his anger that that generation would never enter the promised land. The land was called the rest, because Israel’s wanderings would end there, and there they would know rest from the attacks of their enemies. However, this promised rest was only for those who knew God, and who demonstrated it by believing his promises and obeying his commands.

“And the Lord heard the sound of your words, and was angry, and took an oath, saying, `Surely not one of these men of this evil generation shall see that good land of which I swore to give to your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him and his children I am giving the land on which he walked, because he wholly followed the Lord.’

Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

Christians must take note of the experience of the fathers, and see it as a warning written for our instruction. We must examine ourselves daily to see whether anyone has a sinful unbelieving heart, and take steps to remedy it. God’s patience will not last forever, for the time is coming when repentance will no longer be possible.

Falling away from God has its root in unbelief. Unbelief expresses itself in rebellion, which results in destruction. If Israel had believed God’s promise to give them the land they would not have balked at invading it, in spite of the size and reputation of the inhabitants. If they had trusted in God they would not have rebelled at the lack of water, but waited patiently for the provision to appear in God’s time.

Those who turn away from God do so from lack of trust, and this is called having a wicked heart of unbelief. The effect of sin is that it hardens the heart more than it already is hardened by nature. Sin by its nature is deceitful. It always promises more than it can deliver, and it deceives people into thinking that they can escape the consequences. Either we respond to God’s promises and warnings with faith and a soft heart, or we reject it through deceitful, sinful, unbelief. The same sun that melts the wax hardens the clay.

For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end,

The difference between a profession of faith and the possession of faith is continuing steadfast to the end. Only those who continue to profess their faith in God and Jesus Christ will have a share in the age to come, to partake with Christ in eternal life. It is often thought that perseverance means living a moral life. The reality is that the way to lead a truly god-pleasing life of obedience is to continue in faith. Faith produces the fruit of obedience, and as long as one continues to believe one will continue to persevere. Without faith even one’s good works are detestable to God.

while it is said:
Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.
For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was he angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

The day will come when God will no longer exhort us, and when that happens we will be lost. We must not harden ourselves against God as long as today is still called Today.

To whom did God speak, and to whom is he speaking now? It is to those who have begun to be saved, and are counted among the people of God. This is not an exhortation addressed to pagans. The Israelites had begun well, but it was not enough. It is only those who stay the course and actually finish the race who will enter the promised place of rest.

The same Israelites that crossed the Red Sea and were baptised into Moses, who rejoiced in the destruction of the Egyptian Army and praised God, were the ones who rebelled. It was those who had been saved from Pharaoh, those who had entered into covenant with him who were slaughtered in the wilds. It was the people of God and not the heathen who provoked their God to a rage that lasted forty years. It was the house of God whose corpses were scattered outside of the land because of rebellion and quarrelling.

Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who murmur against Me? I have heard the murmurings which the children of Israel murmur against Me. “Say to them, `As I live,’ says the Lord, `just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: `The carcasses of you who have murmured against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above. `Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in.

The cause of their failure to attain what was promised was their unbelief. The application to us is plain. We have no reason to think that we will enter the Kingdom of God if we do not continue in faith and obedience. We too have experienced the power of God that delivered us from guilt and sin, we too have the promise of a land of rest from our enemies through the resurrection. The only thing that can prevent us from receiving this salvation is our own unbelief.