“Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, Today if you would listen to God’s voice, you must not harden your hearts, as they did when they provoked Me – when they tried My patience in the desert – when your forefathers put Me to the test and saw my mighty deeds for forty years. That was why I was exasperated and displeased with that generation, and said, ‘Their wayward hearts are always wandering and they have never found My paths.’ So I vowed in My anger, ‘They will never enter My place of rest.’ See to it, brothers, that there is no one among you with a wicked and unbelieving heart, which will result in deserting the living God.” (paraphrased)
The author now begins his second warning, extending from 3:7 through 4:13. The first part concerns refusing to hear His voice (3:7 – 4:2) and the second part deals with an entreaty to listen carefully (4:3-13). Having proven the supremacy of Christ over prophets, angels, and Moses, he points out the dire consequences of disobeying Jesus. Just as their ancestors paid the price for being obstinate, the readers are in danger of forfeiting their blessings in Christ.
The writer opens this exhortation by quoting the voice of the Holy Spirit in Psalm 95. Here is a wonderful example of Scripture testifying to its own divine inspiration (I Pet. 1:21). This verifies the Spirit continuously communicates with Believers through God’s Word.
Today does not mean one 24-hour day, but an indefinite period of grace. The concept of today means God’s offer has a time limit (Gen. 6:3). What happened in Moses’ day need not happen now, but there must be a willingness to listen, learn, and repent. God wants us to act on His Word, while Satan urges us to procrastinate. Listening to the Spirit is as important today as it was yesterday (Pv. 27:1).
The refusal to listen (v. 7) is closely associated with hard-heartedness. The phrases “provocation” and “day of temptation” are translations of two Hebrew words respectively: Massah and Meribah. This refers to an incident when the children of Israel, regretting they had left Egypt, rebelled against Moses (Ex. 17:1-7). To immortalize this infamous situation, Moses names the place Massah and Meribah (Ex. 17:7). Massah means irritation, exasperation, and embitterment, while Meribah refers to testing, tempting, and striving with God. For forty years, the Israelites vacillated between trust and distrust.
Because the Israelites who left Egypt were obstinate, they were forbidden entrance into the Promised Land of rest (Deut. 12:9). “Harden” means to dry up or become stiff. The phase “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears” carries a similar connotation (Acts 7:51). The writer urges his readers to beware of the same attitude, lest they also miss the blessing their ancestors did. They must strengthen their trust in God before it is too late.
The reference to the forty years of desert wanderings shows the writer has this entire era in mind, not just one incident. A journey that might have taken only a few months took a few decades. The Israelites witnessed God’s dynamic miracles even while in Egypt, but as soon as they crossed the Red Sea they began to complain (Ex. 14). They accused Moses of bringing them into the desert to die of starvation (Ex. 16). God’s longsuffering and mercy was put to the test at Kibroth-Hattaavah when they hungered (Num. 11). They angered Him by worshiping the golden calf (Ex. 32). At Rephidim the children of Israel tempted the Lord by asking if He was truly among them (Num. 17:7). God asks, “How long will these people provoke Me?” (Num. 14:11). One wonders if they were testing God to see how much ingratitude He could stand.
Four decades of rebelliousness was sufficient to demonstrate the people were predisposed to distrust God. He is grieved with sins of faithlessness and the refusal to follow His ways. The word “grieved” (prosochthisa) indicates extreme anger, displeasure, and disgust. Liberating the Hebrews from bondage may have seemed like a no-win scenario. Israel looked like a hopeless case. The goodness of God should have led them to repentance, but their hard and unrepentant hearts stored up the wrath and righteous judgment of God (Rom. 2:5).
When sin is deliberate and continuous, it incurs God’s indignation. The word anger here is not rage, but refers to God’s abiding opposition to evil and rebelliousness. Swearing an oath for most human beings is a strong affirmation of intent. God never makes an oath or a promise flippantly, for His Word is irrevocable. The meaning here is, “May I not be Jehovah if they enter My rest.” The rest God offers does not mean relief from fatigue, but cessation from work that has been completed. In heaven we rest from our labors (Rev. 14:13).
The practical application of the preceding Davidic quote is the urgent exhortation to not reject Christ. Faith connects us with God; unbelief separates us from God. “Any one of you” makes this warning personal. “Evil” here indicates an adamant refusal to believe and obey. The idea of “unbelief” pictures a person who has faith in Christ at some point, but later turns away from Him. Distrust leads to desertion. Rather than having an evil heart, they must draw near to God with a true heart (10:22).
This sobering illustration from Psalm 95 reminds the readers of the experience of their forefathers in their desert pilgrimage. “Departing (apostenia) from the living God” denotes open rebellion against Him. Apostenia is blatent apostasy – a complete rejection of God. This is not backsliding, but points to an exchange of the new covenant they recently accepted for the old covenant they recently rejected. Being possessed by Jesus demands the continuance of strong faith, as opposed to superficial fidelity.
QUESTIONS: SECOND WARNING – DON’T DOUBT (Part 1)
1. Why did God specify exactly forty years of wilderness wanderings as punishment? (Numbers 14:34-37)
2. The Israelites drank from a supernatural spring in a rock in Numbers 17:6. Who did Paul say this rock represents? (I Corinthians 10:4)
3. What did the people complain about at Marah? (Ex. 15:24)
4. According to Numbers 14:3-4, where did the Israelites want to go?
5. According to Numbers 16:31-32, what happened to all those who followed Korah?
6. What happened to those who complained about the manna? (Numbers 21:5-6)
7. What did the Lord tell Moses He will do to those who sin against Him? (Exodus 32:33)
8. Name the only two men who came out of Egypt that entered the Promised Land. (Numbers 14:38)
9. What exhortation does Paul give us in the last words of Colossians 3:15?
10. Discuss with your spouse those things you complain about the most.
11. Take time right now to express gratitude to God for your mate and all that He has done for you. Confess any sins of ingratitude.