“But on the contrary, encourage each other every day—as long as ‘today’ lasts—to make sure none of you grows hardened through the deceitful character of sin. For we continue to share in all that Christ has for us, provided we hold our convictions firmly to the very end. To use the words of Scripture, ‘Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as they did in the wilderness provocation.’ For who were the people who heard God and yet provoked Him? Were they not those who escaped from Egypt under Moses’ leadership? And with whom was He displeased and exasperated for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned and dropped dead in the desert? And to whom did He vow they would not be admitted to His place of rest? Was it not those who refused to trust Him? We see, then, they could not be admitted because their unbelief had shut them out.” ( paraphrased)
The Hebrews doubtless began their desert pilgrimage with great expectations. But their troubles were not over when they left Egypt: they carried their problems with them in the form of unbelief. Endurance in the Christian life is the key—not the initial born-again experience. Myriads of passages urge Believers to persevere. We are “persuaded to continue in the faith, grounded and settled” (Acts 14:22 & Col. 1:23).
It is our responsibility to constantly encourage (parakaleite) each other every day. Parakaleite pictures someone running alongside another in a footrace, cheering him on to reach the finish line. This is the word Jesus uses for our Comforter, the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:26). Mutual encouragement will help make our hearts more sensitive to the voice of the Spirit. Only by attentive listening can we complete our course and gain the prize (I Cor. 9:24). Faithful compassionate care for others strengthens Believers individually – and the Church corporately.
The parallel here is between the unbelieving Jews in the desert and the unbelieving Jews of the first century. “Deceitfulness” means to trick or defraud. Jeremiah proclaims the heart is desperately wicked and difficult to comprehend (Jer. 17:9). Callousness and sin are closely related, for each reinforces the other. As we become desensitized to God’s voice, we allow sin to harden us.
The writer strengthens the admonitions expressed in the previous two verses. The term “confidence” is often translated as “title deed,” a document that is proof of ownership. The readers must resolve to hold on firmly, for the evidence they truly “own” Christ is their commitment and determination. Our standing in Jesus is secure, as long as we hold fast our confidence in Him. Fidelity is the best proof of sincerity. “To the end” refers to the termination of a lifetime. Although one may begin life with Christ boldly, it is living for Him consistently that matters. The readers must not treat God the Son as their predecessors treated God the Father. The Israelites had begun their redemptive journey through the blood of the Passover lamb in Egypt. The Jewish readers of this epistle were in danger of perishing if they did not continue to have faith in the blood of Jesus. Many Believers leave their old life (Egypt), but their lack of determination and perseverance keeps them from entering their new life (Canaan). They wander aimlessly in the wilderness of the world. Caleb had the right attitude: “Let us go up at once and possess the land, for we are well able to overcome it” (Num. 14:30).
The writer exhorts his readers to keep their hearts open to Jesus. If they lose faith in Him, they will die spiritually like their forefathers. They can listen and live today, or rebel and die as their ancestors did yesterday. Due to their lack of faith, the Israelites provoked God. In the next three verses, the writer asks three rhetorical, interrogative questions:
Who were the ones who provoked God after hearing Him? (v. 16)
With whom was He exasperated for forty years? (v. 17)
To whom did He swear they would not enter His rest? (v. 18)
The answer to each of these questions is an indictment against the rebellious Israelites. Their lack of faith in God reached epidemic proportions. Stephen mentions “their hearts were turned back toward Egypt” (Acts 7:39). Although they had been slaves there, they longed for the few comforts Egypt offered. “We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt – and the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic – but now our souls are dried away. There is nothing at all besides this manna” (Num. 11:5-6). God promised that everyone who murmured against Him would die in the desert (14:29). Because they were free to make the right choices, their failure and punishment was not inevitable.
God was not disgusted with the Jews occasionally, but perpetually for forty years. The reference to “carcasses” is graphic, but the literal translation is “their bodies were strewn along the way in the wilderness.” The long line of unmarked graves across the Sinai Peninsula testifies to the tragedy of unbelief.
Referring to Psalm 95 again, the writer repeats what he said in verse 11. To “not believe” (apeitho) does not refer to a misinterpretation of God’s commands, but an active, premeditated refusal to believe. Our English word “apathy” is derived from this term and indicates indifference; a lack of feeling, interest, or concern.
“We see” implies his readers comprehend his admonition. Judgment will follow God’s oft-repeated but unheeded warnings. “You did not believe the Lord your God” (Deut. 1:32). But He always has a remnant who will faithfully obey His voice. Most of the Israelites provoked God, but two men did not: Caleb and Joshua (v. 36). Of the thousands who left Egypt, only two reached Canaan. Moses himself illustrated the consequences of unbelief. Though he viewed the Promised Land from Mount Pisgah, he was not allowed to enter (Deut. 3:27).
We are travelers through a spiritual wilderness, seeking our promised land of rest. God’s power protects us, but sin tempts us. Because we live in a world that is hostile to God, we must persistently encourage one another.
QUESTIONS: SECOND WARNING – DON’T DOUBT (Part 2)
1. According to John 8:31, how are discipleship and consistent fidelity related?
2. In John 14:26, what name does Jesus give to the Holy Spirit?
3. “Deceitfulness” in this passage means:
A. to trick
B. to defraud
C. to envy
D. to covet
E. both A & B
4. Why should we focus on today instead of tomorrow? (Proverbs 27:1)
5. What is said concerning hearts, ears and eyes in Acts 28:27?
6. Who said, “Let us go up at once and possess the land?”
7. The word “unbelief” is closely related to which of the following?
E. none of the above
8. Which word in Acts 7:51 is also found in Deuteronomy 9:6?
9.Discuss with your mate a time when you were tempted to ignore the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
10. In Hebrews chapter three, we find even God can be exasperated. Does your spouse have any habits or idiosyncrasies that tend to frustrate you? If so, discuss them.