Meditations in Hebrews 3: 22. The Realities of Unbelief
Heb 3:19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief
It is a legitimate question to ask, why is this writer to the Hebrews bringing these warnings to his readers? He started it, we said, back in 2:1 – “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away,” and then he hinted at the same thing in 3:6 – “we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast,” and then he came with that big quote from Psa 95, concluding with “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” (3:12) Then there was that final nudge, we saw, “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” (3:14) So, four times there have been indirect and direct warnings to hold onto our faith. Why?
There is, I suggest, a very simple reason: it is so easy to drift away IF our hearts are not firmly committed to Christ. Having said that there will always be three forces or resources that God will use to stop this happening, three POSITIVE forces at work – His own Holy Spirit, who speaks and seeks to convict us when we get it wrong or get into wrong thinking, His own word, the Bible, which He uses to challenge and teach us (see 2 Tim 3:16,17) and indeed the church and its ministries, and other believers. So, in one sense it is not so easy because God will always be seeking to use all these things to draw you back to himself.
However, we also need to be aware that although there are these three positive forces that God seeks to use to keep us on the right tracks, there are also three NEGATIVE ‘forces’ at work that will seek to draw us away from God. First, the Bible shows us, there is Satan who seeks to tempt us into wrong, distract us from our path and lead us away from God. Second, there is what the New Testament simply refers to as ‘the world’, not the physical planet on which we live, nor all the people who live on it, but the ungodly outlook that sin brings about. We live with this all around us and so we are constantly bombarded by expressions of unbelief through, say, the media. Third, there is our own Sin. Now when we came to Christ we died to that and were revived by the power of the Spirit, to help us live new lives, but the truth is that Sin, which I define as self-centred ungodliness, is always lurking there in the background, which was why the apostle Paul taught, “(You) put to death therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature,” (Col 3:5) and “(You), do not let sin reign in your mortal body.” (Rom 6:11) Now I have inserted the word ‘You’ in both those quotes because Paul is asking us to make an act of will and we need to make the effort to do that.
But that is when we confront this thing called free will because we have the choice, always, how we will act. We can choose not to act badly. So it is that the writer to the Hebrews keeps on pressing this point by referring back to the experience of Israel. Israel’s history is tragically littered with unbelief seen in disobedience. So he now says again, “As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” (v.15) Note the expression, ‘the rebellion’. What rebellion, because there were many in different forms throughout the Old Testament? Researching this some time back, I concluded that the whole of the Old Testament history is there to make us realise the reality of Sin and our need for the salvation which comes in the New Testament.
He wants his Jewish readers to think about the time between leaving Egypt and entering the Promised Land, a time that should have been a matter of a few months but turned out to be forty years! Stop and think about this, he implies, think about what went on back there as recorded in the Pentateuch (Gen to Deut). He asks a series of questions, starting with, “Who were they who heard and rebelled?” (v.16a) We may take this for granted when we read the Bible but there is something incredible here. So who were the rebels? Answer: “Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt?” (v.16b)
Now stop and think about those people. They had witnessed ten incredible plagues, they had witnessed God drowning Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, they had witnessed God cleansing water in the desert, providing fresh water in the desert, providing a constant supply of food in the desert, and had known God help them overcome an attack of the Amalekites in the desert. Then they had come to Mount Sinai and had a series of the most incredible experiences of God there. On their traveling to the Promised Land they had again known God’s provision, as well as His chastising. Again and again and again and again they had experienced the powerful presence of God, there for them, guarding them, guiding them and providing for them AND YET they rebel and refuse to follow God into the Land (and it was ‘follow’ because He had said He would drive out the inhabitants before them) but STILL they were rebellious and refused to enter.
So the writer presses home the point: “And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” (v.17-19) This is the harsh reality. Israel sinned in disobedience born out of unbelief DESPITE their incredible experience of the Lord and as a result the Lord refused to let them try to then force their way into the Land and so that entire generation died of old age, but still in the desert – all because of their unbelief.
Now this is the scary reality: you and I can choose to be foolish, choose not to believe, choose to be disobedient and choose to be recipients of God’s discipline. We too have no excuses. We have the Bible, we have the testimony of the Church over two thousand years, and we have the Holy Spirit, and we have one another. I do not have a problem with people who have a problem with poor church life epitomized by the church in Laodicea (See Rev 3) but if any of us struggle with unbelief and make excuses for just drifting away, I have to say, please, please, look at these things, listen to these things, heed these things. It is down to you. Our unbelief is not God’s fault; it is our choice. Remember God has three resources or forces working to help you stay on track (I may be part of one of them), so listen to His Holy Spirit, read His word with an open heart, listen to your brothers and sisters, because this writer to the Hebrews knows his people, and the Jews are no different from the rest of us; we all have this tendency to drift away and so we must be aware of it and resist it. Amen? Amen!