The writer of Hebrews has
made his argument that Jesus Christ is superior to
the prophets, angels and Moses. There are five
exhortations or warning passages in Hebrews based on
the exalted glory of Christ. For the writer of
Hebrews Yahweh or Jehovah of the Old Testament is
the Messiah of the New Testament.
The first warning
stressed the danger of drifting from the Word
(Hebrews 2:1-4). In the current passage the writer
warns his readers not to doubt or disbelieve the
Word because of their hardness of heart.
As we study this passage
of Scripture we need to keep in mind our eternal
security does not depend upon us, but on the all
sufficient atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ to
cover all our sins (John 5:24; 6:37-39; 10:27-30;
Rom. 8:29-3911:6; Eph. 2:8-10; Phil. 1:3-6; 1 John
5:11-13). There is a personal responsibility that
comes with this new relationship with Christ. He is
our Lord and Master.
When we read the
Scriptures we are listening to the voice of God
speaking to us. God speaks to us in and through His
experience (Heb. 3:7-11).
"Therefore, just as the
Holy Spirit says, '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
fathers tried Me by testing Me, And saw My works for
forty years. Therefore I was angry with this
generation, And said, "They always go astray in
their heart, And they did not know My ways; As I
swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest"
(Hebrews 3:7-11). The author is quoting Psalm
95:7-11, and in Hebrews 4:7 he says David wrote it
down. Here he attributes it to the Holy Spirit.
It is important to keep
in mind the background of this passage being alluded
to and quoted from the Old Testament. The people of
Israel had been slaves in Egypt under the evil power
of Pharaoh. God had redeemed His people and
delivered them out of Egypt at the first Passover
when a lamb was slain for in every home. God's
mighty hand delivered the children of Israel.
Moreover, it was not
God's will for the people of Israel to remain in
Egypt or in the Sinai wilderness wandering around.
His goal was for them to enter into their
inheritance in the land of Canaan. They wandered
around for forty years because they would not trust
God to lead them into the land. The events are
recorded by Moses in Numbers 13-14. Only two of
those who left Egypt crossed the Jordan River into
Canaan. The people missed their inheritance because
of unbelief and died in the wilderness. Their
children are the ones Joshua led across the river.
God's holiness and
justice is His nature. He needs no other reason to
punish sin but His holy character. The children of
Israel provoked God for a forty-year period, even to
the point of Moses disobeying God by hitting the
rock instead of speaking to it (Num. 14:11, 23-29,
32; 20:13. As a result of their disobedience and
unbelief all of the adults who had left Egypt were
denied entrance to the land except Caleb and Joshua.
Israel's sin was a
continual wandering away from God in their heart.
The word "heart" to the Hebrews represented the
center of man's personal being, and included the
volition, emotions and intellect. The Hebrews
perceived man as thinking with his heart. Israel
persisted in going their own way instead of
submitting to God's revealed will. They refused to
trust in Him. They were always going astray in their
hearts. They did not acknowledge God's way. "Do not
harden your heart." "Harden" (skleruno)
means to dry out, to dry up, to make hard, to
The emphasis is on
"today" is referred to throughout this discussion.
"Today" stresses the urgency of immediate action.
His readers can respond to God's offer of salvation.
It is not only how you begin the Christian life but
also how you end.
The children of Israel
saw the works of God in the wilderness every day.
They heard Him proclaim His own law, they ate manna
every morning, yet they continued unbelieving and
They "provoked" God by
their disobedience. The word "provoked" (parapikrasmos)
means "to put to test." Israel put God to rest in
Exodus 17:1-7 on the account of lack of water at
Rephidim. But their provocation was not limited to
one occasion. It went on for forty years.
The writer uses an
interesting series of words: provoked, trial, tried,
testing. Instead of God's testing in order to prove
the person, it is just the opposite here. The
children of Israel put God to test to see what evil
or good there in in Him when they put Him to the
test for the purpose of approving Him. Let's see if
God meets our test. It was an evil heart of unbelief
like man in our day who test God with their demands.
Because of their defiant
unbelief God swore they would not enter into His
rest. "Rest" denotes more than just entrance into
the land of Canaan.
in the original means to cessation of activity and
in this verse points to a place of blessing where
there is no more striving. It is a permanent
cessation of activity, or permanent rest. It is a
relaxation in the presence of God knowing there is
no reason to fear. The writer of Hebrews has a great
interest in "rest" (Heb. 3:11, 18; 4:1, 3-5, 8-11).
For the people of Israel
it was not just entrance into the Promised Land, but
a rest that God promised. The generation that left
Egypt did not enter into the land. Only two were
allowed to enter and they were Joshua and Caleb. The
next generation under Joshua entered the Promised
Land and experienced some rest because they chose to
trust and obey God (Josh. 1:13-15; 21:44; 22:4;
23:1). However, it was not a permanent rest because
of sin and unbelief. They were taken into captivity
by foreign rulers. After that Gentile rulers
governed Israel until A. D. 70 when Rome destroyed
Jerusalem. Israel will only enjoy peace under the
rule of the Messiah when He returns.
God says, "Therefore, I
was angry with this generation" (Heb. 3:10). The
King James Version reads "I was grieved." The word
means to be "wroth or displeased with." The Hebrew
words being quoted mean "to loathe, spew out,
reject, abhor, repudiate." They are stronger than
grieved. It is a strong offence because they have
offended God. They provoked Him; they angered God. I
hear people make outlandish statements about God and
I think, "Don't you know who you are blaspheming?"
What does Canaan
represent for Christians today?
The Canaan rest is a
representation of our present rest as we claim it by
faith in Christ (Heb. 4:3, 11-13; Matt. 11:28).
Jesus Christ had redeemed us by shedding of His
blood. He purchased us (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; Acts
20:28; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 2 Cor 5:21; Rom. 5:6, 8). But
that is not all. We have been delivered by the blood
of the Lamb of God and the power of God. The
Land of Canaan represents for us our spiritual
inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1:3, 11, 15-12; Col
1:13-14). Crossing over Jordan is not a picture of
death and entering into heaven as a lot of gospel
songs teach. We are in a spiritual war. Canaan was a
place of battles, including defeats. It is not a
good illustration of heaven. There will be no wars
nor rumors of wars in heaven. The battle will have
been won. How sad that many Christians will not step
out by faith and claim their spiritual inheritance
in Christ. They do not enjoy the fullness of God's
blessings in their Christian life.
The Christian's rest is
not just going to heaven, but to enjoy all that God
has promised us in our union with Christ. All
true Christians will go to heaven and receive many
blessings (Heb. 4:9; Rev. 14:13). There are rewards
or blessings reserved for those who continue to
trust and obey God such as crown of righteousness,
crown of life, crown of glory, etc.
unbelief (Heb. 3:12-19).
"Take care, brethren,
that there not be in any one of you an evil,
unbelieving heart that falls away from the living
God. 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.
For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold
fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the
end, while it is said, 'Today if you hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked
Me.' For who provoked Him when they had heard?
Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led
by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty
years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose
bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He
swear that they would not enter His rest, but to
those who were disobedient? So we see that they were
not able to enter because of unbelief" (Hebrews
The people of Israel who
died in the wilderness were mostly redeemed
believers. They died as believers, and did not lose
their salvation. The problem is they failed to enter
into the blessing that could have been theirs if
they had trusted Him. They failed to trust in the
Lord and He allowed their enemies to defeat them.
The danger for the Jewish
people in the wilderness was to apostasy, departure
from God, not failure to come to God in saving
faith. The rebellion consists of departing from a
living, dynamic God. The Hebrew Christians are
tempted to reject the revelation God gave through
His Son. This would be even more tragic because
Christ is the final word from God. Jesus said, "He
who has seen Me has seen the Father." Jesus said to
him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no
one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6).
Every believer needs to
be cautious against unbelief and deceitfulness of
sin. A son may leave home and journey to another
place to live, but he does not cease to be a son.
Even though we are partakers of the heavenly calling
we can only partake of all that God has provided for
us to enjoy by persevering daily in the Christian
life. We can lose the privilege of partaking with
Christ all that He has in store for us if we stop
trusting Him. We began the Christian life by faith
and we live it daily by faith. The children of
Israel failed to receive the blessings of God
because they did not trust Him.
"Take care" picks up
where the author left off in verse seven. The author
stresses a constant keeping a watchful eye open,
consider, contemplate, and look at carefully. He
presents a searching warning for each believer to
examine his own spiritual condition. The spiritual
problem is unbelief. "Take care, brethren, that
there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving
heart that falls away from the living God." Wrong
behavior results from wrong thinking. "Watch over
your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the
springs of life" (Proverbs 4:23).
"Take care, brethren,
that there not be in any one of you an evil,
unbelieving heart that falls away from the living
God." The word for "falls away" is aphistemi
"to apostatize", literally "to stand away."
"The root of unbelief is
the original depravity of our natures . . .There is
such an impotency in us by nature, that no man of
himself, by his own strength, can believe, can come
to Christ. None can believe except they are
specially taught of God (John 6:44, 45). Men in a
state of nature neither can nor will believe the
gospel," wrote John Owen.
There is an unbelief that
consists in a rejection of the truth of the gospel.
An unbelieving heart causes a person to depart "from
the living God." The words "departing" or "falls
away" (apostenai) signifies "turn away from,
forsake, apostatize from." The idea is not depart,
but "standing off from, to step aside from." It "is
not merely unbelief, but disbelief, refusal to
believe describing a evil heart marked by disbelief"
(A. T. Robertson). This is the word from which we
get the word apostasy which is a departure from and
repudiation of one's position. The individual has
renounced his former professed belief and is now
totally opposed to what he believed before. There
was pressure being applied to these Hebrew
Christians to fall away or depart from their faith
in Christ. There was the temptation to return to the
Levitical sacrifices and absolutely reject the
atoning sacrifice of the Anointed of the Lord.
Our writer calls this apostasy from the living God.
For him it is impossible to turn back from the
highest revelation of God in Christ and possess true
saving faith in God.
The kind of heart the
Israelites in the desert is plain. "A wicked heart
of unbelief in apostatizing from the living God. The
source of the problem is "wicked unbelief." There is
the danger of doubting and disbelieving God's Word.
Sin is the master of deception. The end of sin is
not seen at once. The trouble of unbelief is always
in the heart. It dulls the heart and our thinking
becomes blunted and insensitive.
How tragic to give merely
an intellectual assent to the Lord Jesus Christ, and
have no saving knowledge of Him.
What is the solution to
such temptations? The writer encourages his readers
to "encourage one another day after day" (v. 13). He
wants them to encourage one another, not castigate
or criticize. Parakaleite is literally to
call to one's side in order to encourage. Encourage
one another every day.
"We have become partakers
of Christ" is a present state as a result from a
past action. When we were spiritually regenerated we
became sharers of the very life of Christ. "We have
become" (gegonamen) perfect tense partakers
of Christ is the same idea in verse one when he says
the believer shares in the heavenly calling. We have
a vital union with Christ. We share in His life. The
question is not is a person retaining salvation
based upon persistent faith, but the possession of
salvation as evidenced by a continuation of faith.
The perfect tense in the original reaches back to
the past and speaks of the present standing. Was
there a time in the past and a as result they were
partakers of salvation in Christ? If they have been
saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ they
will persist in that faith to the end of their
lives, despite the persecution which they are
Does this "apostasy" mean
abandoning one's faith and his salvation? Is such a
person condemned forever to hell? The context of the
passage of Scripture does not teach this. Canaan is
not a picture of heaven, but of the Christian's
present spiritual inheritance in Christ. They miss
the blessings of their inheritance today and suffer
the chastening hand of God.
Our vital union with
Christ is the principle and measure of all spiritual
satisfaction and expectations. "Our union with
Christ, our participation of Him, consists in the
inhabitation of the same Spirit in Him and in us,
and the work of this Spirit given unto us is to form
Christ in us, whereby our union is completed,"
observed John Own.
consistency in believing is the evidence of union
The Scriptures are very
clear that true believers cannot lose their
salvation (John 6:39-40; 10:27-29; Eph. 1:4; Rom.
8:35-39; Phil. 1:6; 1 Pet. 1:3-5).
"If we hold fast the
beginning of our assurance firm until the end" (v.
14). The solemn reminder is that those who have
"become partakers of Christ" will continue in faith
and will not apostatize to Judaism. The believer
never ceases to believe He rests his complete trust
in Christ. The "if" clause does not tell us that we
will become sharers of Christ ultimately if we hold
fast long enough, but we can recognize the true
sharers of Christ by their consistent faith.
The argument of the
author of Hebrews is that those who are hardened
bear evidence that they are not and have never been
true believers. On the other hand, the true
believers do not become hardened in unbelief. The
true believer will examine his heart to make sure
that he is a genuine believer. If there is no true
evidence of faith and obedience then there is good
reason to doubt they have ever been saved.
The author in vv. 15-19
is quoting Psalm 95:7-8. A whole generation perished
under the wrath of God because they would not
believe in God's promises. The people who came out
of Egypt by the might hand of God were the very ones
who refused to believe Him. God's anger was against
those who sinned. There was no excuse because they
saw the mighty hand of God that delivered them.
Moreover, it was forty years of unfaithfulness.
"Whatever we consider in
sin, God principally considers the root and spring
of it in unbelief. Unbelief is the immediate root
and cause of all provoking sins. . . Unbelief
deprives men of all interest in or right unto the
promises of God. . . . No unbeliever shall ever
enter into the rest of God," writes John Owen.
Is the implication that
Christians who do the same will not enter heaven?
Some have taken that view. On the other hand, the
New Testament teaches that all who believe in Jesus
Christ will go to heaven because we saved by simple
faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Christ plus what equals salvation? The Bible teaches
we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone.
Nothing else. "For by grace you have been saved
through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the
gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no
one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9). Jesus made it
very clear that the true believer has eternal life
and will not perish. "My sheep hear My voice, and I
know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal
life to them, and they will never perish; and no one
will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has
given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is
able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and
the Father are one" (John 10:27-30). The apostle
Paul taught the same great truth. "These whom
He predestined, He also called; and these whom He
called, He also justified; and these whom He
justified, He also glorified." (Romans 8:30).
Moreover, nothing can separate us from the love of
God in Jesus Christ our Lord (v. 39). The wonderful
truth is God will glorify us just as he has
justified us and is now sanctifying us. Salvation is
of the Lord, not man. Rest does not equal the
Promised Land or heaven, but the inheritance that
God wants us to enjoy in the Promised Land or
heaven. Another way of stating this truth is
justification and sanctification are not the same
doctrine. If you mix the two you will have a wrong
interpretation. We are justified by faith instantly
by the declaration of God. We are sanctified
positionally, progressively and finally when we see
Jesus in heaven.
To equate the inheritance
only with heaven results in inconsistent
interpretation. Some of our hymns have poor
theology. Crossing the Jordan River marked the
beginning of God's testing of the new generation of
Israelites. He tested the previous generation in the
wilderness. Each generation has its own tests.
One of my seminary
students, Phil Slaughter said accurately, "If you
are saved you are always saved." So the correct
question is, Do you have eternal life? You either
have it, or you don't.
There was no excuse for
Israel. God's presence was with them leading and
providing for them daily. God's faithful servant
Moses gave them leadership. They saw the
demonstration of God's presence daily. They simply
refused to follow God's leadership. They knew God's
will and disobeyed Him. They missed the blessings of
God and one by one died in the wilderness desert.
That does not mean that those who died in the
wilderness were eternally lost because they did not
find their rest in the Promised Land. They were
spiritually saved, just like Moses who appeared at
the transfiguration of Christ.
The only option is to
repent and trust Him for His saving grace. This is
why we have such a great High Priest.
The beginning of
backsliding from Christ, and the ways of the gospel
are secret, deep, and hardly discoverable, being
open and naked only to the all-discerning eye of
Christ. The omniscience of Christ and His
all-searching and all-seeing eye is an effectual
means to preserve the sol from destructive entrance
into backsliding suggest John Own. "The all-seeing
eye of Jesus Christ is a great preservation against
backslidings in profession."
PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
God still appeals to men
to enter into His rest. It is more than entering
into the Promised Land. His appeal is that you right
now through faith enter into the Sabbath rest, the
very rest of God.
We must take God's offer
of eternal life today because there is no guarantee
of a tomorrow for any of us. Today, while you have a
chance, receive Christ as your savior. This is still
God's today. Enter into His rest today before it is
Trust and obey. Mix the
promises of God with faith.
There is no greater time
than right now. Many people think that we live in a
day when God is no longer at work as in former ages.
But the truth is He is just as much at work today as
He ever was. God is the same today as He was
yesterday, and the age before that. God is the same
Crossing over into Canaan
for the Christian today is not a picture of going to
heaven, but our spiritual inheritance in Christ
(Eph. 1:3, 11, 15-23).
3:7-19 Don't Harden Your Hearts