Meditations in Hebrews 3: 21. Bombshell Warning No.2
Heb 3:7,8 So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert,
There had been this gentle call to “fix your thoughts on Jesus” (v.1) and then a reminder that we are part of the ‘house’ that Jesus has built. Yes, there had been that element about Moses, but it almost seemed an aside that perhaps left you wondering why he was going in that direction. Now he drops what I always tend to feel is a bombshell of a warning, a mighty reminder and declaration of what had happened to Israel after the Exodus with Moses and it happened because of their failure to be obedient.
So, let’s observe first of all what the warning is against, in these verses that follow. First, it is “do not harden your hearts” (v.8) and then expanding on that, “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God,” (v.12) and then, “hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” (v.14) Back at the beginning of chapter 2 he had come with a first warning which was really the same thing but in much milder tones: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” (2:1)
But note that to bring real force to this warning, he brings it in an historical context when he speaks of ”during your time in the desert,” (v.8c) referring back to the Exodus. Moreover, he spells out Israel’s failure back then when he uses such language as “in the rebellion,” (v.8b) and “when your fathers tested me.” (v.9a) He also reminded them of God’s response to His people’s rebellion: “I was angry with that generation, and I said, `Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.” (v.10) and the divine judgment that followed it: “So I declared on oath in my anger, `They shall never enter my rest.” (v.11) Thus verses 8 to 11 are a direct quote of Psalm 95:7-11. Let’s let the power of it come again as we read it in full:
“So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, `Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, `They shall never enter my rest.’”
All the Israelites over the age of twenty died in the wilderness and never entered the Promised Land (the Lord’s ‘rest’, His place for their future home). It was a catastrophe of history which overshadows the wonder of the Exodus itself. If they had obeyed the Lord and just gone in, as they eventually did forty years later, this blot would not have been there on their history. In one sense, it was not as bad as if God had wiped out the entire people over the age of twenty, but He had known that if that had happened then the remaining generation below 20 would not have been strong enough in wisdom or human strength to take the land. No, that generation had to grow up in the desert while their older families just died from old age until eventually the new nation would have had a full age spectrum again from 0 to 60.
So the warning comes through the historical reminder, with the conclusion: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” But he adds a second part: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (v.13) i.e. we can help overcome any tendency to drift away by encouraging one another, to remember and to hold fast to the faith. We will eventually see similar language in chapter 10 where he continues to bring warnings to encourage: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (10:23-25) Note in both passages a warning that the future will not always be the same: “as long as it is called Today” (3:13 which he will expand on in 4:7) and “as you see the Day approaching.” (10:25 warning of Jesus’ return.)
And then he adds a subtle nudge as he had before: “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” (v.14) which is similar to what we saw earlier, “And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” (v.6b) In both of those verses observe the word, ‘if’ which suggests our salvation is conditional on holding firm. He is going to give another serious warning in chapter 6. Now there are those who suggest “once saved, always saved.” Whether these two verses here apply to our entire salvation or just the outworking of it, I leave up to you. However, note the strength of what they are both implying. If we fail to hold on to the confidence of the Gospel we had at first, we will NOT share in Christ. If we do not hold on to our courage and hope, we can NOT be considered part of Jesus’ house.
Now, as I say, whether you take that to mean we lose our entire salvation or we lose the experience of it on earth, I leave up to you, but even if you subscribe to the latter approach it is a cold, morbid, lifeless experience you can expect for the rest of your life, in no way entering into, and enjoying, the privileges of the heavenly resources (grace) and the goodness of God. Indeed, one might go further, if we move away from these things and no longer hold on to what you had at first, it is probable you will lose it all because you go back to the ways of the world and they produce the anger of God and are self-destructive.
It is a severe warning that we have been looking at and the options are clearly a) entering into God’s goodness (His rest, the Promised Land) or b) wandering lifelessly in the desert. No wonder the warning come – don’t drift away, don’t let your hearts become hard and unbelieving, but hold firm and encourage one another to hold firm. May we do that.