In His great love for the readers of the letter to the Hebrews (both the original audience and us, too), God gives warnings and examples that should be taken seriously and learned from. We considered such a case in this passage, under the following headings:
LOOKING BACK (Hebrews 3:7-19)
Learn from a Deadly Example. Despite all the love God had shown to Israel when He brought them out of Egypt and (through Moses) led them through the wilderness, and despite all the blessings He poured out on them along the way, their hearts were hardened and they grumbled and complained against Him. Their unbelief was especially demonstrated when they rebelled against God’s command to go in and take possession of the promised land. They had heard a bad report about it from several of the spies they had sent ahead, and they refused point blank to obey. Rather than believing that God would be faithful to His promise, they decided in their sin that He actually brought them out of Egypt to destroy them at the hands of the current occupants. Their unbelief brought dire consequences upon them from God. Only Joshua and Caleb believed the promise of God and entered the land – the rest of that generation perished in the wilderness. We need to be careful when we encounter trials and difficulties in this life not to harden our hearts against God and to disbelieve His promises to us.
Look Carefully at the Condition of Your Heart. Saving faith is more than knowing certain facts and believing them to be true. Always, always, always it consists also in resting ourselves entirely upon those truths – trusting in them alone – for our salvation. But sin is deceitful and we can easily believe lies about God and about one another, giving ourselves over to hardness of heart. To keep ourselves tender-hearted, it is critical that we exhort each other daily in the church, so that we can be careful to avoid the danger of an evil heart, hardened in unbelief, that turns away from God. We can do this in the church as we learn to exhort and encourage each other boldly, expressing God’s heart for us by watching over each other in love
LOOKING AHEAD (Hebrews 4:1-13)
The writer seems to anticipate some questions from his readers and answer them in this section:
- Since Israel didn’t enter the rest God had promised them in Canaan, through their own sinful rebellion and unbelief, does that make the promise defunct? Not at all, he responds, the promise of entering God’s rest still stands for those who united the message of good news with faith in the promise.
- But then Joshua did actually lead Israel into the promised land some time later. Does that mean that the promise is now exhausted so that there is no future rest to look forward to? Again, the writer emphatically demonstrates that this is not the case. David says that as long as it is called “today”, if those who hear God’s voice believe in the promise, they will enter God’s rest. And David wrote this in Psalm 95 long after Joshua led Israel into Canaan! So there remains the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise of rest (of which Canaan was just an earthly shadow), and to enter that rest we must hear and believe the message of the gospel. When God created the heavens and the earth, says the writer, He enjoyed a Sabbath rest on the seventh day of the week. In the same way, those who believe the gospel message work in this world to help build God’s house (the new creation) and then enter into their Sabbath rest in heaven.
The rest that lies ahead is so wonderful that it is worth striving to make sure we will enter it. It takes effort to enter God’s rest! God’s Word is a very important element to help us in this task. It holds up a mirror to our hearts and reveals unbelief and sin so we can turn from them. We can use the Word to exhort and encourage each other in the church so that we don’t fall away in unbelief and rebellion, as Israel did, and so fail to enter God’s rest.