Lesson 8: "Harden Not Your Hearts. . .Take Heed. . .Exhort One Another Daily" (Hebrews 3:8, 12-13)
The Book of Hebrews. Welcome to lesson # 8. Our text is to be found beginning in v.7 of Heb. ch. 3; which we read in our previous lesson. We read 32 verses, you will recall, a rather large block in our last lesson. That block included all of ch. 3 and the first 13 verses in ch. 4. We agreed to break this larger block into four divisions or four parts. The first division (i.e. v.1-6 of ch. 3) we covered quickly near the end of our last lesson (i.e. lesson # 7). In this present lesson (lesson #8), we would like to complete the second division of that block, consisting of the last 13 verses in ch. 3 (or to put it another way, v.7-19 of ch. 3). So, get it tuned in and let's get going. Now, if your markers are set; let's back up just a minute for a little perspective. God hath spoken. God spake in time past BY THE PROPHETS of old (i.e. before the time of Christ and we have a record of that, which we call the Old Testament) AND in contrast to that God has in these last days (i.e. the Christian age) spoken unto us by his Son, Jesus the Christ. Now, this is all said in the very first two verses of this book (we call HEBREWS). The message of Christ to us (in the Christian age) is what we call the New Testament. God's Son is not to be equated with the old prophets (like Moses for example) and God's-Son is superior to angels. Then, even more significant to us in the Christian ages is that Christ Jesus is the Captain of our salvation (2:10). Or, to say it another way, Christ is the Leader of our salvation; thus, Christ is termed the APOSTLE and/or HIGH PRIEST of our profession (using the words of 3:1).
Now, you must keep in mind, the HEBREWS writer said this initially to a group of people in and around Jerusalem who did not believe Jesus was superior to Moses and the prophets of old, i.e. those who continued in the temple worship; as-well-as, to the Christians of that first generation of the church who were succumbing to that view, i.e. Christians or baptized believers, whose faith was waning and they were being proselytized or at least on the verge of being converted back to their ancestral religion.
O.K., before we get started with the text at hand, just one more minute; let's take another look at our outline as we have carved it out. Christ is the captain of our salvation (2:10). "Wherefore"...W-H-E-R-E-F-0-R-E, that big word is the first word in chapter three (do you see it?). Now, that word is a summary-type word, i.e. to say, based on the previous thought already stated: here is a very distinct consideration that is intimated and infused in to what has been said, in other words something that needs to be emphasized. What needs to be emphasized? We're talking about the content of v.1-6 of ch. three. Christ is as superior to Moses, as the builder of a house is superior to the house. We covered that at the end of our last lesson.
Alright, now, while you have your eyes on that text, notice that v.7 (of ch. 3), begins with that same big summary-type word, "wherefore." In other words in going back to "the apostle and high priest of our profession" or the "captain of our salvation," Christ Jesus; the writer begins to include another point that needs to be emphasized also. O.K., that's the point we want to cover in this lesson (v.7-19). However, before we begin v.7-19, glance at the next section (i.e. v.1-10 of ch. 4). Notice, that ch. 4 begins with: "Let us therefore" (do you see that?). In other words, based on the foregoing, the writer is still drawing a conclusion. The same thing can be said with reference to v.11 (of ch. 4); where he uses these words: "Let us labor therefore..." so-and-so (have you got it?). And, there (beginning in v.11 of ch. 4), the writer sort-of draws a general conclusion (for and from) this entire block. It may be a little unusual literary setting; but, you need to be aware of the organizational construction of the writer (here).
Alright, if you've got that, let's go for an analysis of that section (i.e. part two of our outline, v.7-19). Are you ready? Let's read it again. We'll start with v.7-11. Please put your eyes on that (ch. 3, v.7 beginning). "Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith. Today if ye will hear his voice, harden NOT your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do always err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest."
O.K., what's the point? The writer goes back to a portion of scripture that very closely parallels the situation as it then existed in and around Jerusalem. The HEBREWS writer takes his example from Psalm 95 (beginning there in the middle of v.7 as it reads down through v.11 in Psalm 95). David (in this reference) made essentially the same plea to HIS generation as the HEBREWS writer is here developing; and pleading for the same action of God's people again in the mid-AD 60's. We might call it the restoration plea, if you will. As Paul said to the Romans "whatsoever things were written afore-time were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (that's Rom. 15:4). The HEBREWS writer IS once again making the same appeal to worship God as the Creator in truth just like David had said "the Lord is a great God" (Psalm 95:3). I think you can see our writer is gradually bringing it down home for a personal application. There is a great lesson to be learned from the book of Numbers in the O.T., from which David took his example. After the Israelites came out of Egypt, after they received the Mosaic covenant at Mount Sinai, after they built the tabernacle, after they began the new worship system (Ex. ch. 40), even after they started toward the promised land, the spies came back with a mixed report, (Num. ch. 14), the Israelites got into a big wrangle there in the desert of Sinai very much like that big denominational wrangle that is still going on in our day. Some even wanted to go back to Egypt. That generation over the next 40 years died there in that wilderness dessert of Sinai, and they simply defied God in that they did not go for the promised land that God had promised them and gave them, and that God had instructed them to go enter-in. Thus, the HEBREWS writer not only makes the point that this is an example of apostasy; he shows that the book of Numbers was given for our admonition and our learning. David, a prophet of God, an inspired writer (we would say) had analyzed that passage and had by inspired commentary (Psalm 95) already sounded a warning concerning such faithless and deletory conduct. Therefore, we not only have the example, we have it interpreted for us in Scripture, i.e. sanctioned by the Holy Ghost. So, the message rings loud and clear, just as God was disgusted with that generation lost in the desert of Sinai and did NOT accept them; God is going to deal in a like manner with us, if we are so foolish as to repeat that same faithless sort of conduct. God said, "They shall not enter into my rest" (v.11), and that was written for our learning. Now, I'm talking about. Heb. 3:11 and you might notice that part of v.7-11, i.e. the quotation from Psalms is placed in parenthesis in some printings of the KJ text. It is not in the copy I am using.
Then, in David's comments (the last part of v.7 in Psalm 95), there is a principle that one might easily read right over top of and never pick-up on, if you simply read casually (at least). I refer to the phrase "Today if ye will hear his voice" (and that principle, that phrase, is quoted in the last part of v.7, here in Hebrews). So, the HEBREWS writer takes the time to restate and develop this principle, calling it to the reader's attention as another important theme not to be overlooked. As a matter of fact, he uses the rest of this section (v. 12-19) to develop and drive home this point. Let's read v. 12-19 again. Please read with me! Are you tuned-in? Here we go: "Take heed, 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 are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end; while it is said. Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief."
Now, the point here is that our God is a very forgiving God. By this means (i.e. by goodness, forbearance and longsuffering) the apostle Paul said, He "leadeth thee to repentance" (Rom. 2:4). "Longsuffering" is one of the fruits of the Spirit (if you remember Gal. 5:22). However, this "longsuffering" of God has its limitations. Our God may give us reasonable time; but, not unlimited time. The principle here, that we need to get, is simply that when we learn what God wants and expects we are expected to act promptly and swiftly. Oh, we will be accepted even if we finally move at the eleventh hour, apparently. However, it pleases God if we move quickly and swiftly to obey His will. If we do not move quickly and swiftly, we run the risk of hardening our hearts as the Israelites did in the desert, i.e. to become insensitive. If we do not obey the invitation call at the very first opportunity, then as time goes on resisting the invitation simply become routine. We become more and more insensitive to any spiritual urge to do so. In II-Cor. 6:2 the apostle made this point and urged expediency by a. sort of blending Isa. 48:8 with Psalm 69:13. He said: "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." You see, our faith grows by degrees, just as our physical body grows by degrees; i.e. small increments invisible and imperceptive to the human eye. Peter said, "as newborn babes, DESIRE the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." (I-Pet. 2:2). Little babies do not procrastinate when it comes time for their bottle. They sound the alarm. They are ready for the next course, the next feeding. And, just as that little baby has a natural desire for a physical feeding (don't miss that word "desire" now), we are to cultivate a desire for spiritual nourishment. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled...one of the beatitudes...do you remember? We are taught that there is to be a certain urgency about Christianity, also. Faith cometh by hearing. Our faith grows by degrees or we move from faith to faith (as the apostle said to the Romans, Rom. 1:17). Our faith grows. Here in HEBREWS the writer substitutes the word "confidence" for the word faith as it is normally used, "we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end..." (v.14). Then in v.15, the writer takes the time to re-quote from Psalm 95, "Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation." (I say re-quote because the writer has already quoted this once, back up in v. 7-8.). That generation of Israelites did not enter into the promised land. WHY? "They could not enter in because of unbelief" (v.19). In other words that generation missed the promised land by a simple lack of faith. There were a few exceptions, of course. Now, what's the message to us? Back up to v.12-13, "Take heed, brethren!" What does that mean? Pay attention brethren! Why? "lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (v.12). We depart from God, God does not depart from us. BUT, in contrast to that (v.13), "exhort one another daily, while it is called Today [quote]; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." "Unbelief" in v.12 is equated to an "evil heart." Do you see that? The writer says in v.13 that sin is "deceitful." How is sin deceitful? OH, I have plenty of time. There's a great temptation to fall into that trap, isn't there? Do you remember the parable of the rich fool (in Luke ch. 12)? Time was not a factor in his thinking. He said, "this I will do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou has much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be...?" You see, that man was deceived into thinking that he had plenty of time. It is so easy for us to fall into that trap. God called that man a fool. You see, we all know we are going to die. Billions of persons have lived upon this old earth and not one has ever defied death.1 Why should we think we are an exception? We need to be aware of this principle and re-new our perspective day by day... while it is TODAY as the writer says. To the Corinthians, the apostle Paul said: "though the outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day" (II-Cor. 4:16). You see, there is a principle here which says we must stay on top of our spiritual state, i.e. redeeming the time (Eph. 5:16). Jesus said, "for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." (Matt. 24:44). We have been warned. Today is the day of salvation. If I die today, that's it for me. We walk by faith, not by sight (II-Cor. 5:7). You can't see it coming. But, you can be prepared.
Can you see the attitude exhibited and what was evidently happening around Jerusalem to the Christians of the AD 60's? The writer is simply saying to them: stand back and take a look at your own state. Pay attention to where you are! That's another way of saying "walk circumspectly" (Eph. 4:15). You have been warned. Take heed brethren! Don't get lost in the desert like our ancestors did, you've come a long way, a whole generation has past; but, you are slipping, you are slipping!
Now, how does that apply to us...2,000 years later? Well, I surely don't have to spell it out. I trust you are getting it. Alright, before we close this lesson, let's step back and take one more look at that big block (i.e. Heb. 3:l-Heb. 4:13). We divided that block into four sections and we have now covered the first two of those sections. The third section begins with ch. 4 and we'll start there ,in our next lesson; but, take just a moment to burn it in. God has spoken! In these last days, God has spoken unto us by his Son, Jesus Christ, by whom he made the worlds (1:1-2). Christ is superior to angels. He is the captain of our salvation (2:10). He is thus the Apostle and High Priest of our profession...i.e. our vocation...in other words as Christians. Jesus, the Christ, is as superior to Moses as one that builds a house is superior to that house. The house Jesus built is the church. That's section one. Then, section #2, we must hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end (v.14). I'll be back in lesson # 9, have a good day.