Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says:
Today, if you hear His voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers tested Me, tried Me,
and saw My works for 40 years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation
and said, “They always go astray in their hearts,
and they have not known My ways.”
So I swore in My anger,
“They will not enter My rest.”
Watch out, brothers, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that departs from the living God. But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception. For we have become companions of the Messiah if we hold firmly until the end the reality that we had at the start. As it is said:
Today, if you hear His voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.
For who heard and rebelled? Wasn’t it really all who came out of Egypt under Moses? And who was He provoked with for 40 years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And who did He swear to that they would not enter His rest, if not those who disobeyed? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” – Hebrews 3:7-19 (HCSB)
Today we approach one of what is often called an apostasy passage. This passage, so say some, demonstrates that it is possible for someone who has been justified to fall out of grace and back into condemnation. We shall see today that this is not the case.
Before we enter the exposition of this text, we see at the onset a clear apologetic for the inspired status of the Old Testament. The passage quoted is Psalm 95:7-11 and the original speaker of this passage is David. However, because this is the inspired Scripture, it comes from the very mouth of God. (2 Timothy 3:16)
Our author today begins by citing a familiar Psalm to his audience. Originally a Psalm which was both a proclamation of God’s goodness and call to worship, it came with a dire warning. Harkening back to the rebellion at Meribah (Exodus 17) in which the people brought charges against Moses and Yahweh, and in which symbolically Yahweh bore the punishment for a crime he did not commit and typologically tells us of the Rock who was struck for us at Calvary, the author utilizes this passage to show that just as not all who were Israel were true Israel… so also there may be some in the Church who are not truly of the Church.
Rather than speak about those who have genuinely been unified with Christ through faith and thereafter justified, this text points out that although everyone coming out of Egypt was Israel, that there were many (nearly all) who “have not known My ways” and will “not enter My rest.”
Exhorting his flock to seek the Lord so that unbelief will not be preset as it was at Meribah, he also begins what will be a repeated theme of God’s Sabbath rest for his people. Calling this body to encourage each other every day to holiness and faith, while it is still called “today.” This exhortation is not a reference to the sun going down, or the possibility of sudden death as some have surmised. Rather, it is a reference to the fact that we are living in day six of creation, and that now is the time for repentance and salvation. For someday imminently and unexpectedly this age of today will slip away to the age to come of the eternal Sabbath.
The overall reason for this is not because it is possible to fall away, but that only those who do not fall away are truly united with Christ. Rather than see this as union with Christ, here called companionship with Messiah, as contingent upon perseverance, instead we must understand that the converse is true. Those who are Christ’s will persevere, and those who persevere are Christ’s. It is Christ who preserves and protects us. Just as it was Yahweh who stood on trial in the wilderness and provided salvation for an ungrateful people (in the form of water), so also Christ stands before us and provides for us living water.
Recognizing that there are those who are hearing his words who are not united with Christ, he exhorts them to receive the word of God with gladness, and not to harden themselves against it.
Closing this section our author asks the question. Who was it who rebelled, who was it who died in the desert? It was not pagans who rejected God’s covenant terms. No, it was those who claimed the covenant making God. However, rather than think that it was because of disobedience that they died in the desert, but because of a lack of faith. At Meribah they put Yahweh on trial, accusing him of unfaithfulness. However, it was their unbelief which was put on display, and because of this lack of belief their bones were buried in the sand.
So today, my dear readers, I urge you. Do not delay. If you have heard his voice, do not harden your hearts as unfaithful Israel did. Instead be united to him through faith, and through his strong arms and protection he will keep you until today becomes our eternal tomorrow.