THE DANGER OF UNBELIEF
6Come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
7For 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;
9When your fathers tested Me,
They tried Me, though they had seen My work.
10For forty years I loathed that generation,
And said, "They are a people who err in their heart,
And they do not know My ways."
11Therefore I swore in My anger,
"Truly they shall not enter into My rest." (Psalm 95:6-11).
This Psalm contains a call to worship the Lord. It is a Psalm which focuses upon the wonder and the majesty of God. But there is also an exhortation here. It is an exhortation to listen to the voice of the Lord with an open heart. With this exhortation comes a warning. It is a warning of judgment. The warning is based on an event which took place at the very beginning of the history of the nation of Israel.
The family of Jacob had migrated to Egypt in the days of Joseph. Through his influence, they were permitted to settle in Egypt. But eventually they became slaves in Egypt. After a period of 400 years, Moses was called by God to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. Great signs and wonders were used to deliver the Israelites from their captivity. They witnessed the mighty hand of the Lord working on their behalf against Egypt. They saw great plagues befall the Egyptians through the hands of Moses. They saw the Red Sea parted before them and they passed through its waters. They were led through the Sinai wilderness by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. They were miraculously fed each day. The observed the presence of the Lord filling His tabernacle.
But after all this, when it came time for them to enter into the land that God had promised to them, the Israelites became afraid. They were afraid that God might not be strong enough to accomplish what He had promised. They rebelled against the Lord. When He commanded them to go in and to take the land that He had promised, they said, "No!" As a result of that rebellion, God condemned that generation. He did not allow them to enter into the promised land. They were condemned to wander in the wilderness. Over the next 40 years the entire generation died in the wilderness.
The writer of the book of Hebrews will be using this Psalm as his text. He will quote from this Psalm and he will give a warning which will be based upon what happened to Israel.
There is a contrast to be seen between the previous paragraph and the one to which we now come. It is a contrast between Jesus and Israel. It is a contrast between the faithful versus the unfaithful.
Faithfulness of God seen in Christ
The Example of Israel
Warning against unbelief
Results of disobedience
Whose example will you follow?
The faithfulness of Christ will be seen in strong contrast to the faithlessness of Israel in the wilderness. Because of this, we will be left with a decision. Will we follow the example of Christ or the example of Israel?
THE EXAMPLE OF ISRAEL
Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, "Today if you hear His voice, 8 do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, 9 where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, and saw My works for forty years.
"Therefore I was angry with this generation, and said, ĎThey always go astray in their heart; and they did not know My waysí; 11 as I swore in My wrath, ĎThey shall not enter My rest.í" (Hebrews 3:7-11).
The writer quotes from the Psalm. He quotes from Psalm 95. This was a very special Psalm to the Jews of that day. It was traditional for them to read this Psalm at the beginning of the Sabbath day. They viewed it as a Psalm which spoke of their Sabbath rest. The word "Sabbath" in Hebrew means "rest." It was the day which the Lord had given for them to rest from their labors and to remember their God.
This is a 3rd class conditional clause, indicating the uncertainty as to whether the readers will indeed hear the voice of the Lord.
Notice that there is a choice you have to make. This choice is introduced by the word "if." The words of the exhortation apply to you IF you hear His voice. It indicates that you have a decision to make. You can choose to listen to the voice of God. Or you can choose to ignore it. There is no third choice. You are going to do one of these two options. In fact, you are doing one of these two things right now.
This is not a call to do something in the future. It is a call for the nasty here and now. It is a call to do something today.
The warning is given. It is that you do not harden your heart. What does this mean? How do you harden your heart?
I play the guitar. When I first started to learn to play,, it was difficult. After only a few minutes, the fingers of my left hand would begin to hurt from pressing down on the strings. But as I continued to practice each day, something happened. The ends of my fingers became hardened. They began to develop calluses. And soon my fingers did not hurt when I played the guitar.
Your heart can become hardened or callused in the same way. When you first reject a portion of Godís truth, it is difficult. His truth strikes to your very heart and touches you. There is guilt. But if you continue to turn away from His truth and if you continue to reject what He has to say, then soon you will develop spiritual calluses. Your heart will become hardened so that Godís word can no longer penetrate.
The result of this kind of hardening to the Word of God is tragic. It is seen in the example of Israel in the wilderness.
The writer alludes to an event which was rooted in the early history of the Jews. This was a part of their national heritage. It was the event of the sin of Israel in the wilderness.
The Israelites in the wilderness had no reason to disbelieve God. They had seen His mighty power in the land of Egypt working on their behalf. They had seen the great plagues fall upon the Egyptians through the hands of Moses. They had seen the Red Sea parted before them and they had passed through its waters and they had seen the Egyptian army perish when it tried to follow. They had been led through the Sinai wilderness by cloud and fire. They had been miraculously fed and sustained upon their journey.
After all of these things, when it came time for them to enter into the land that God had promised them, they became afraid. They determined not to obey God. They called God a liar. They said, "God promised more than He is able to deliver." And in so doing, they provoked God.
Because of this, the entire generation of Israelites was doomed to die in the desert. The only two men of that entire generation who were permitted to enter into the land were Joshua and Caleb.
Donít miss this! The same generation that was saved out of Egypt by the blood of the Passover lamb and who went through the Red Sea with Moses and who was given the Law at Sinai went on to die in the wilderness. They never entered the land. They never received the promise.
Why? Because they did not continue in belief. They hardened their hearts against the Lord and they rejected His word. As a result, they died in the wilderness.
WARNING AGAINST UNBELIEF
12Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God.
13But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "today," lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
14For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end; 15 while it is said, "Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me." (Hebrews 3:12-15).
Now there is a warning. The warning is given on the basis of the experience of their forefathers. They are to learn from the mistakes of Israel.
This is significant. The Bible is not merely a history book full of nice stories. These narratives are given for a reason. They are given so that we might learn from those past mistakes.
Notice the title that the writer uses for God. He calls Him the "Living God." There is a reason for this. The same God who brought judgment against the Israelites in the wilderness is still alive and well. He is the God that will one day judge you. One day you will stand before the living God.
Back in the 1960's a number of liberal theologians declared that God is dead. Those theologians are now all dead, but God is still alive. Because there is a Living God, we are to take heed lest we follow in Israelís footsteps.
This is a warning to all who have come to Christianity. It is a warning to all who have ever followed Christ. It is a warning to Christians. And it is a warning to you.
The warning is against falling away. The phrase "falling away" is translated from the single Greek participle , from which we get our word "apostasy." There is a danger. It is the danger of apostasy. It is that you might find yourself falling away from the Living God.
What does this mean? You must remember the context in which this is written. This is written to Hebrew Christians who were being persecuted for their faith. They have been brought up to worship in the Temple and to keep the Sabbath according to the Scriptures. But now as they turn from the Law to follow Christ, they are faced with persecution. As a result, they will be tempted to leave Christ and return to the comfort of their Jewish ceremonial system. They will be tempted to apostatize. This epistle is written to encourage these believers to remain in the faith.
Do you see the point? To depart from faith in Christ is to depart from "the living God." This was a particularly Jewish designation for God. Remember that when Caiaphas wished to bind the words of Jesus, he said to Him, "I adjure you by the living God" (Matthew 26:63). The reason that apostasy is so terrible is because God is the Living God. It isnít a bad thing to depart from a dead god. But God is the God of life and to depart from Him means that you are departing from the source of life.
There is a danger. It is not that you might make a sudden departure from the faith. Most people do not go that route. Rather, the danger is that you might be gradually hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Sin is like that. It grows on you. Each time you sin, you tend to go a little further. Each time you sin, it becomes a little easier. Eventually you will reach the place which it doesnít bother you at all.
There is an important principle here that I want you to see. It is that we have become partakers with Christ. This has tremendous implications. If you have trusted in Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you have entered into a living relationship with Him. You have been identified with Christ.
These are all a result of your relationship in Christ. But that relationship only exists if you hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.
Here is an important truth. It is the truth of endurance. You are only a part of the household of Christ if you have an enduring faith. You cannot come to Christ for a few minutes and then turn around and reject Him for the rest of your life and expect to be saved.
At this point, you may object, "But that means you can lose your salvation!" No it doesnít. But it does mean that real faith is lasting faith.
Your salvation is not a work which is accomplished by you. It isnít accomplished by your good works. It isnít accomplished by your endurance. It isnít even accomplished by your faith. It is accomplished by God. If you are a believer today, it is because God has done His work in your heart so that you were able to understand and believe the message of the gospel.
The work of God has lasting results. If He has saved you, then you will continue to be saved. If He has truly changed your life, it will continue to be changed. And if He has brought assurance into your heart, then you will endure in the holding fast to that assurance.
This truth also contains a grave warning. It is a warning that it is possible to have a false assurance. It is possible for a man to think that he is saved and to be wrong. It is possible for a man to come to Christ and to go through all of the motions of being a Christian and then to fall away from the faith and to still be unsaved. In fact, the reason that such a man invariably falls away from the faith is because he was not saved in the first place.
They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19).
How can you tell if a person is really a child of God? It is because he believes in Christ and because he goes on believing. He holds fast the beginning of his assurance firm until the end.
THE RESULT OF DISOBEDIENCE
For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:16-19).
Here is the result of disobedience. It was a failure to enter into the promised land. This is important. The very people who Moses led out of Egypt were the same people who provoked the Lord. It was not the pagans who died in the wilderness. It was not the heathen that God judged. It was Godís people.
Notice the movement of this passage. It is seen in the three questions:
Who provoked Him?
With whom was He angry?
To whom did He swear that they should no enter?
An example of unbelief.
An example of condemnation.
An example of judgment.
These were people who had witnessed the mighty works of God. But they fell because they did not believe.
They responded in unbelief.
They responded by choosing the wilderness.
They responded in rebellion.
Do you see the point of the passage? It is that it is possible to be the recipient of the promise, to be identified with those who have departed from the old land of Egypt and to begin the journey to the promised land, only to fall short and die in the wilderness.
Here is the danger. It is the danger that you might follow in their footsteps. It doesnít mean that you die in a physical wilderness. But the physical death they died has a spiritual counterpart. The road is the same. It begins with an attitude of unbelief. It ends either with repentance or with the judgment of God upon that unbelief.