Today’s study will be the second study in our study series – The Six Great Warnings. Over the next few weeks, we are going to be taking a look at each of these warnings to see what they warn against so that we can take the proper precaution. Our study last week took a look at the warning of neglecting salvation and drifting into condemnation. Essentially, if we had to sum up these warnings into one, it would all be about not missing out on the kingdom of heaven.
So, in our study today, we will focus on scripture about hardening your heart. There is, of course, a very great danger that one faces if they choose to harden their heart against the Lord. Let’s keep in mind that though this epistle was directed to Jews who had not heeded the gospel of Christ, this warning serves as a warning for all people today and not just one group of people.
Learning From Israel’s Past
When I think of someone hardening their hearts, in scripture, it would be hard for me not to think of Pharaoh. Pharaoh hardened his heart in the day that Egypt faced the plagues of God. To harden: to confirm in disposition, feelings, or action; to become firm, stable, or settled. Rather than giving in to God’s desires, plague after plague, the revelation of the fact that he was a mere man, made Pharaoh even more stubborn in his heart.
Pharaoh is an easy example of the danger of hardening your heart against the Lord. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews chose to use a different example for the danger of hardening your heart against God. Our study scripture opens Hebrews 3:7 by stating, “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice.”
Let’s notice that the writer is speaking in a manner where we are reminded that the writer is trying to urge the people to earnestly heed the word of God as we saw in Hebrews 2:1. The suggestion that we see here with the use of “today” would be that the Jews did not heed God’s word the day before, right? As we recall from our study last week, there were Jews who disregarded the gospel preached by Christ and then taught by the apostles afterwards.
The divided kingdom years
We will see the writer then warn in Hebrews 3:8-9, “Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works forty years.”
Now, while there were Jews disregarding the word of God during that present time, the writer points to Israel’s past as an example for not heeding God’s word yesterday. So, for both the Jews and for all of us today, the writer is going to use Israel hardening their hearts as an example for one not to follow when it comes to the word of God.
I do want to point out that the writer is quoting scripture directly from Psalm 95:7-11. Just to briefly touch on Psalm 95, I often use the opening verses of Psalm 95 for my call to worship scripture. If you look at the opening verses of that psalm, you will see that David was calling for Israel to worship and praise the Lord because God “is the great God, and the great King above all gods (Ps. 95:3-6).”
David urged for Israel, since they were the people of God’s pasture, the sheep of His hand, to hear God’s voice (Ps. 95:7-8). Sadly, the urging of David was not heeded. After the death of David and Solomon, Israel ended up becoming a divided kingdom to the north and south. Both kingdoms ended up forsaking God’s instructions even after the Lord repeatedly sent prophets to the people to call on them to repent from their wicked ways.
Ultimately the northern kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians and was essentially lost. The blood of the tribes of the northern kingdom ended up intermingled with Gentiles which led to a rather rocky relationship between the Jews and Samaritans (John 4:7-9). The southern kingdom was conquered by the Babylonians and after returning to Judea, the southern kingdom never truly prospered as in the days of David and Solomon. Does it sound like it’s a good thing to harden your heart against the word of God?
The rebellion and trial in the wilderness
The Jews that lived after the Babylonian exile should have definitely learned from the sins of their fathers that had hardened their hearts to God’s message delivered to them by the prophets. To be fair, some certainly did learn from the past as they chose to follow Christ. Yet, there were those who professed to believe but were still clinging to the traditions of old. Then there were several others that completely chose to disregard His word.
So, to speak to his people about hardening their hearts against the word of God, the writer mentioned “the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness.” Now, the Jews would have instantly knew what the writer was referencing but do you? What is this rebellion that is being spoken of? What is this day of trial in the wilderness?
Hebrews 3:9 makes it clear with the mention of the consequences of Israel hardening their hearts being them seeing God’s works forty years. Do you know what the rebellion is in reference to now?
For those of you who may not know what is being referenced, let’s turn over to the book of Numbers. In Numbers 13, we find the children of Israel on the point of their journey where they were camping in the Wilderness of Paran (Num. 12:16). It was at that point on their journey that the Lord told Moses to send men to spy out the land of Canaan (Num. 13:1-2); they were sent to confirm the truth about the land.
The land of Canaan was the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel) by the Lord (Gen. 17:7-8). Today, that piece of land is the land of Palestine which we see being heavily fought over; it’s been a contested land going back to the days of and especially after Joshua. Now, I’m not going to dive much more into discussing the contesting of the land since it really has nothing to do with our study.
I’m also going to skip over Numbers 13:3-20, though if you wish to know the names of the twelve men that were sent from Paran into the land of Canaan, you can see the names there. After going into the land of Canaan to confirm the land, the twelve men returned to Moses and the congregation of Israel after forty days.
The men reported that the land truly was a land that flowed with milk and honey, which was to say that the land was a good land (Num. 13:27). However, after that, ten of the men began to speak against the land. Speaking against the land was speaking against God, His promise, and His blessing; the men spoke about how the inhabitants of the land were strong, the cities were large and fortified, and how there were even giants in the land (Num. 13:28, 31).
The spies then spoke about how they did not believe that Israel would be capable of defeating the people and taking the land (Num. 13:31). I want you to understanding that they were not simply doubting the people but they were also doubting what God was able to do as well. Now Caleb, one of the twelve, spoke against the ten spies as he called for the congregation to go up at once and take possession of the land; he believed Israel would be able to overcome the people of the land (Num. 13:30).
So, Israel had a choice to make: heed the report of the ten spies that spoke against taking the land or believe as Caleb believed? This, I want you to understand, is the “trial in the wilderness” where Israel tested the Lord. When we turn over to Numbers 14, we will see that matters only got worse in this trial.
In Numbers 14:2, you will see that the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron. The people then questioned God in Numbers 14:3, when they said, “Why has the Lord brought us to the land to fall by the sword?” Now, there is nothing wrong with asking God questions, but something is terribly wrong when you question God in a manner of doubting Him.
Joshua, the second of the twelve men to speak against the ten, pleading with the congregation that if God delighted in them, which He did, then God would give them the land. Joshua warned the people not to rebel against the Lord nor to fear the people (Num. 14:6-9). So, the choice in the trial in the wildenress was very clear for the people. Sadly, the people’s hearts were hardened against moving in faith as scripture tells us they called for the stoning of Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb (Num. 14:10).
How do you suppose the Lord felt about this rebellion? God said to Moses, “How long will these people reject Me (Num. 14:11)?” God was ready to strike them with pestilence and disinherit them from the promise (Num. 14:12). As we see it said in Hebrews 3:10, God was angry with that generation of Israel as they would always go astray in their heart.
The tragic part about that generation of Israel was that they witnessed what God had done in Egypt with all of the plagues. That generation of Israel crossed the Red Sea on dry ground but still could not move in faith; they let the word of ten persuade them away from God! Because of their hearts, that generation of Israel wandered the wilderness for forty years and did not inherit the Promised Land; the blessing was given to their children.
A Very Important Warning
When the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews called for the Jews to hear God’s voice, we have to consider the call came at a time not too long after Christ walked the earth, relatively speaking. So, the warning of Hebrews 3:12-13 shows great concern for what was likely taking place during the time of writing. The writer stated, “Beware, 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.”
Don’t miss out on God’s promise
So, what was it taking place at that time? Again, there were Jews living at that time that professed to believe in Christ but they still clung to the traditions of old. There were other Jews who would not turn to the way of Christ because they also lived according to the traditions of old. The law in no way is bad, but we, mankind, fail the law simply because we are sinful creatures in our nature. Therefore, as I said in my Christmas bible study – Why Jesus Was Given to the World – we need Him badly if we desire to be holy and righteous!
Because nobody is able to fulfill the law, God gave the world His only begotten Son who was able to fulfill the law in the flesh. Through Christ, we have atonement of our sins. Through Christ, we have a more excellent way we can now follow in order to become holy and righteous; this is the point the writer was conveying to the Jews at that point in time.
Again, you will see the writer state, “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end (Heb. 3:14).” It should not be lost on us the parallel that the writer has cleverly drawn out to the Jews. Do you know what has been promised to those that are partakers of Christ?
In 1 Peter 4:13, Peter wrote, “rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” To Nicodemus, Jesus said, “whoever believes in Him (God’s only begotten Son) will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).”
The parallel that has been drawn is that God has promised a land today to all, and that land is not the land of Canaan. The land of promise that I am now speaking of is the land of God’s heavenly kingdom. We live in a world today where Jesus, like the twelve spies, came to us, mankind, and gave us a report of our promised land. Sadly, some spoke against Christ report back then and many still speak against His report today; many were led astray back then and many are still being led astray today.
The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews did not desire for them to be led astray by those that would give a bad report of Jesus and what Jesus promised. Their fathers weren’t allowed to enter the Promised Land of Canaan when they rebelled, and those that rebelled at that time against Jesus and His promise would not be allowed to receive the promise. So, the warning to the Jews was one of great importance which essentially said: don’t harden your hearts and miss out on God’s promise, again.
Fear the Lord
As I said in last week’s study, though this epistle was directed to the Hebrews, this warning also serves as a warning to all of those who are not of sincere faith.
Jesus promised that “whoever” believes in Him should not perish— “whoever” speaks to all people and not to just one nation. We must remember that the kingdom of heaven is open to all people. Jesus made it clear in John 10:16 when He said, “other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.”
Jesus was speaking of the Gentiles joining the fold of the Jews to become one flock. I want you to understand that all people today are standing on the precipice of the kingdom of heaven just as the children of Israel did with the trial in the wilderness and the land of Canaan.
Don’t rebel today
The problem we face today is that God’s servants, like Joshua and Caleb, are trying to encourage the world that if God delights in us, He will surely bring us into the land He has promised but others speak against the promise. No, I haven’t seen heaven with my eyes but I do believe the report of Christ who came from heaven with a good report.
Those that rebel against God and speak against the promised land of heaven today suggest that the land isn’t real, or that there is another way to get to heaven and that you don’t have to listen to God’s servants. There are several others that will even suggest that heaven can be found elsewhere, like in this world! Do not be like the children of Israel and harden your hearts against the word of God for the deceitfulness of sin.
At such rebellion, the Lord will respond in a similar fashion as He did when Israel rejected the Promised Land. The promise of the heavenly kingdom is the greatest reward one can receive from God! So, rejecting heaven – God’s great blessing – will not be taken lightly.
Those who reject to inherit heaven will never have the opportunity to inherit heaven, just as that generation of Israel that rejected the Promised Land could not inherit it. Those that rebel against the promise of heaven will be cast away from God and His kingdom for eternity (Rev. 20:11-15).
Soften your hearts to God
In the closing scripture of our study this week, we will see in Hebrews 4:1, that the writer speaks to the promise of “entering His rest” still remains. God has not forbidden everyone within this generation – the generation after Christ – from entering His promise.
As the writer states in Hebrews 4:2 that the gospel and promise has been preached to us. Because it has been preached to us, all who believe, we shall receive what has been promised as our inheritance. So, rather than hardening our hearts to the messengers, as Israel once did with Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb, we must soften our hearts and receive God’s gospel.
You and I should not make light of what happened to those of the generation of Israel that was not allowed to inherit the Promised Land. In other words, we should fear hardening our hearts and not receiving the promise of eternal salvation, joy, and peace. So, with this in mind, I encourage you not to harden your hearts against the word of God and the promise made through Christ. Open up your heart to God’s word and be attentive to its call so that you will receive the great reward of the Lord.