Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
~ Acts 15:18, Revelation 13:8
For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.
~ Hebrews 4:2-4
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
~ Hebrews 6:4-6
And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word: But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD. Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it:
~ Numbers 14:20-23
I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
~ Romans 11:1-5
Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.
~ John 8:56
And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face. What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:
~ Exodus 34:33, Romans 11:7, 2 Corinthians 4:3
And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.
~ Mark 4:10-12
He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
~ Hebrews 10:28, Romans 9:18
Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.
~ Romans 9:6-8
There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.
~ Hebrews 4:9
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
~ Matthew 25:33-34
An Exposition of Hebrews 3:7-12, by A.W. Pink.
Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.) Take heed, 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 To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
~ Hebrews 3:7-19
In the first six verses of our present chapter four things were before us. First, the call to “consider” the Apostle and High Priest of our profession. Of old, Moses was God’s apostle or ambassador to Israel, Aaron, the high priest. But Christ combines both these offices in His own person. Second, the superiority of Christ over Moses: this is set forth in seven details which it is unnecessary for us to specify again. Third, the one thing which the Spirit of God singles out from the many gifts and excellencies which Divine grace had bestowed upon Moses, was his “faithfulness” (verses 2, 5); so too is it there said of Christ Jesus that He was “faithful to Him that appointed Him” (verse 2). Fourth, the assertion that membership in the household of Christ is evidenced, chiefly, by holding fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end (verse 6). That there is an intimate connection between these four things and the contents of our present passage will appear in our exposition thereof.
“If we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” The “hope” mentioned here is that made known by the Gospel (Colossians 1:23), the hope which is laid up for God’s people in Heaven (Colossians 1:5), the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). Christians have been begotten unto a living hope (1 Peter 1:3), that “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13), namely, the return of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, when He shall come to take us unto Himself, to make us like Himself, to have us forever with Himself; when all God’s promises concerning us shall be made good. The reference to the holding fast the confidence of this hope is not subjective, but objective. It signifies a fearless profession of the Christian faith. It is to be “ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you, a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). Stephen is an illustration. Then, this hope is also to be held fast with “rejoicing” firm unto the end: Paul is an example of this, Acts 20:24.
What follows in our present portion contains a solemn and practical application of that which we have briefly reviewed above. Here the apostle is moved to remind the Hebrews of the unfaithfulness of Israel in the past and of the dire consequences which followed their failure to hold fast unto the end of their wilderness pilgrimage the confidence and rejoicing of the hope which God had set before them. A passage is quoted from the 95th Psalm which gives most searching point to both that which precedes and to that which follows. The path in which God’s people are called to walk is that of faith, and such a path is necessarily full of testings, that Isaiah, of difficulties and trials, and many are the allurements for tempting us to wander off into “By-path meadow.” Many, too, are the warnings and danger signals, which the faithfulness of God has erected; unto one of them we shall now turn.
“Wherefore” (verse 7). This opening word of our present passage possesses a threefold force. First, it is a conclusion drawn from all that precedes. Second, it prefaces the application of what is found in Hebrews 3:1-6. Third, it lays a foundation for what follows. The reader will observe that the remaining words of verse 7 and all of verses 8-11 are placed in brackets, and we believe rightly Song of Solomon, the sentence being completed in verse 12: “Wherefore take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.”
The reasons for this exhortation have been pointed out above. First, because of the supreme excellency of our Redeemer, exalted high above all Israel’s prophets, and given a name more excellent than any ever conferred on the angels; therefore, those who belong to Him should give good heed that they harden not their hearts against Him, nor depart from Him. Second, because the Apostle, Christ Jesus, is worthy of more honour than Moses, then how incumbent it is upon His people to be especially watchful that they be not, by any means, turned from that obedience which He requires and which is most certainly due Him. Third, in view of the lamentable history of Israel, who, despite God’s wondrous favours to them, hardened their hearts, grieved Him, and so provoked Him to wrath, that He sware they should not enter into His rest, how much on our guard we need to be of “holding fast” the confidence and rejoicing of our hope “firm unto the end!”
“As the Holy Spirit saith.” Striking indeed is it to mark the way in which the apostle introduces the quotation made from the Old Testament. It is from the 95th Psalm, but the human instrument that was employed in the penning of it is ignored, attention being directed to its Divine Author, the One who “moved” the Psalmist—cf 2 Peter, 21. The reason for this, here, seems to be because Paul would press upon these Hebrews the weightiness, the Divine authority of the words he was about to quote: consider well that what follows are the words of the Holy Spirit, so that you may promptly and unmurmuringly submit yourselves thereunto.
“As the Holy Spirit saith.” Striking indeed is it to mark the way it links up with Hebrews 1:1 and Hebrews 2:3. In the former it is God, the Father, who “spake.” In Hebrews 2:3, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord?” there it is the Son. Here in Hebrews 3:7 the Speaker is the Spirit; thus, by linking together these three passages we hear all the Persons of the Godhead. Observe, next, the tense of the verb used here; it is not “the Holy Spirit said,” but “saith:” it is an ever-present, living message to God’s people in each succeeding generation. “Whatever was given by inspiration from the Holy Ghost, and is recorded in the Scripture for the use of the Church, He continues therein to speak it unto us unto this day” (Dr. John Owen). Let the reader also carefully compare the seven-times-repeated, “he that hath an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” in Revelation chapters 2,3.
“As the Holy Spirit saith.” Dr. Gouge has pointed out how that this sentence teaches us four things about the Holy Spirit. First, that He is true God: for “God spake by the mouth of David” (Acts 4:25). “God” spake by the prophets (Hebrews 1:1), and they “spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Second, the Holy Spirit is a distinct person: He “saith.” An influence, a mere abstraction, cannot speak. Third, the Holy Spirit subsisted before Christ was manifested in the flesh, for He spake through David. True, He is called, “the Spirit of Christ,” yet that He was before His incarnation is proven by Genesis 1:2 and other scriptures. Fourth, He is the Author of the Old Testament Scriptures, therefore are they of Divine inspiration and authority.
“Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts” (verses 7, 8). Here begins the apostle’s quotation from Psalm 95, the first portion of which records a most fervent call (verses 1, 6) for the people of God to be joyful, and come before Him as worshippers. Most appropriate was the reference to this Psalm here, for the contents of its first seven verses contain, virtually an amplification of the “consider” of Hebrews 3:1. There the Hebrews were enjoined to be occupied with Christ, and if their hearts were engaged with His surpassing excellency and exalted greatness, then would they “come before His presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms” (Psalm 95:2).
Their Apostle and High Priest had “built all things” (Hebrews 3:4), being none other than God. The same truth is avowed in Psalm 95:3-5, “For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is His also. The sea is His, and He made it: and His hands formed the dry land.” The apprehension of this will prepare us for a response to what follows, “O come, let us worship, and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God; and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand” (Psalm 95:6,7).
The next thing in the Psalm Isaiah, “Today, if ye will hear His voice harden not your heart.” So the next thing in Hebrews 3is, “whose house are we if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” Thus the Psalmist admonished those addressed in his day to hearken to the voice of the Lord, and not to harden their hearts against Him as had their ancestors before them. By quoting this here in Hebrews 3, the apostle at once intimated what is the opposite course from holding fast their confidence.
“Today” signifies the time present, yet so as to include a continuance of it. It is not to be limited to twenty-four hours, instead, this term sometimes covers a present interval which consists of many days, yea years. In Hebrews 3:13 it is said, “But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today.” So in Hebrews 13:8 we read, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today and forever.” So in our text. As that present time wherein David lived was to him and those then alive “today”, so that present time in which the apostle and the Hebrews lived was to them “today,” and the time wherein we now live, is to us “today.” It covers that interval while men are alive on earth, while God’s grace and blessing are available to them. It spans the entire period of our wilderness pilgrimage. Thus the “end” of Hebrews 3:6 is the close of the “today” in verse 7.
“If ye will hear His voice.” “Unto you, O men I call; and My voice is to the sons of man” (Proverbs 8:4). But no doubt the immediate reference in our text is unto those professing to be God’s people. The “voice” of God is the signification of His will, which is the rule of our obedience. His will is made known in His Word, which is a living Word, by which the voice of God is now uttered. But, alas, we are capable of closing our ears to His voice. Of old God complained, “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel cloth not know. My people cloth not consider” (Isaiah 1:3). To “hear” God’s voice signifies to attend reverently to what He says, to diligently ponder, to readily receive, and to heed or obey it. It is the hardening of our hearts which prevents us, really, hearing His voice, as the next clause intimates. To it we now turn.
“If ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” It is to the heart God’s Word is addressed, that moral centre of our beings out of which are the issues of life (Proverbs 4:23). There may be conviction of the conscience, the assent of the intellect, the admiration of understanding, but unless the heart is moved there is no response. A tender heart is a pliable and responsive one; a hard heart is obdurate and rebellious. Here hardening of the heart is attributed to the creature: it is due to impenitency (Romans 2:5), unbelief (Hebrews 3:12), disobedience (Psalm 95:8).
“It appears that unto this sinful hardening of the heart which the people in the wilderness were guilty of, and which the apostle here warns the Hebrews to avoid, there are three things that do concur: 1. A sinful neglect, in not taking due notice of the ways and means whereby God calls any unto faith and obedience. 2. A sinful forgetfulness and casting out of the heart and mind such convictions as God by His word and works, His mercies and judgments, His deliverances and afflictions, at any time is pleased to cast into them and fasten upon them. 3. An obstinate cleaving of the affections unto carnal and sensual objects, practically preferring them above the motives unto obedience that God proposeth unto us. Where these things are Song of Solomon, the hearts of men are so hardened, that in an ordinary way, they cannot hearken unto the voice of God. Such is the nature, efficacy and power of the voice or word of God, that men cannot withstand or resist it without a sinful hardening of themselves against it. Every one to whom the word is duly revealed, who is not converted of God, doth voluntarily oppose his own obstinancy unto its efficacy and operation. If men will add new obstinacy and hardness to their minds and hearts, if they will fortify themselves against the word with prejudices and dislikes, if they will resist its work through a love to their lusts and corrupt affections, God may justly leave them to perish, and to be filled with the fruit of their own ways” (Dr. John Owen).
“Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness” (verse 8). The reference here is to what is recorded in the early verses of Exodus 17. There we are told that the congregation of Israel journeyed to Rephidim, where there was “no water for the people to drink.” Instead of them counting on Jehovah to supply their need, as He had at Marah (Exodus 15:25) and in the wilderness of Sin (Hebrews 16:4), they “did chide with Moses” (verse 2), “and when they thirsted, the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” (verse 3). Though Moses cried unto the Lord, and the Lord graciously responded by bringing water out of the rock for them, yet God’s servant was greatly displeased, for in verse 7 we are told, “And he called the name of the place Massah (Temptation) and Meribah (Strife), because of the chiding of the children of Israel and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not”.
Once more we would point out the oppositeness of this quotation to the case of the Hebrews. “The thought of Moses (in verses 1-5) naturally suggests Israel in the wilderness. Faithful was the mediator, through whom God dealt with them; but was Israel faithful? God spake: did they obey? God showed them wonder signs: did they trust and follow in faith? And if Israel was not faithful unto Moses, and their unbelief brought ruin upon them, how much more guilty shall we be, and how much greater our danger, if we are not faithful unto the Lord Jesus” (Saphir).
It is not only true that the difficulties and trials of the way test us, but these testings reveal the state of our hearts—a crisis neither makes nor mars a Prayer of Manasseh, but it does manifest him. While all is smooth sailing we appear to be getting along nicely. But are we? Are our minds stayed upon the Lord, or are we, instead, complacently resting in His temporal mercies? When the storm breaks, it is not so much that we fail under it, as that our habitual lack of leaning upon God, of daily walking in dependency upon Him, is made evident. Circumstances do not change us, but they do expose us. Paul rejoiced in the Lord when circumstances were congenial. Yes, and he also sang praises to Him when his back was bleeding in the Philippian dungeon. The fact Isaiah, that if we sing only when circumstances are pleasing to us, then our singing is worth nothing, and there is grave reason to doubt whether we are rejoicing “in the Lord” (Philippians 4:4) at all.
The reason Israel murmured at Meribah was because there was no water; they were occupied with their circumstances, they were walking by sight. The crisis they then faced only served to make manifest the state of their hearts, namely, an “evil heart of unbelief.” Had their trust been in Jehovah, they would at once have turned to Him, spread their need before Him, and counted on Him to supply it. But their hearts were hardened. A most searching warning was this for the Hebrews. Their circumstances were most painful to the flesh. They were enduring a great fight of afflictions. How were they enduring it? If they were murmuring that would be the outward expression of unbelief within. Ah, it is easy to profess we are Believers, but the challenge still rings out, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works?” (James 2:14).
“When your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My works forty years” (verse 9). The “when” looks back to what is mentioned in the previous verse. The “Day of Temptation in the wilderness” covered the whole period of Israel’s journeyings from the Red Sea to Canaan. “The history of the Israelites is a history of continued provocation. In the wilderness of Sin they murmured for the want of bread, and God gave them manna. At Rephidim they murmured for the want of water, and questioned whether Jehovah was with them and He gave them water from the rock. In the wilderness of Sinai, soon after receiving the law, they made and worshipped a golden image. At Taberah they murmured for want of flesh and the quails were sent, followed by a dreadful plague. At Kadesh-barnea they refused to go up and take possession of the land of promise, which brought down on them the awful sentence referred to in the Psalm; and after that sentence was pronounced, they presumptuously attempted to do what they had formerly refused to do. All these things took place in little more than two years after they left Egypt. Thirty-seven years after this, we find them at Kadesh again, murmuring for want of water and other things. Soon after this, they complained of the want of bread, though they had manna in abundance, and were punished by the plague of fiery flying serpents. And at Shittim, their last station, they provoked the Lord by mingling in the impure idolatry of the Moabites. So strikingly true is Moses’ declaration: ‘Remember, and forget not, how thou provoked the Lord thy God to wrath in the wilderness: from the day that thou didst depart out of the land of Egypt, until ye came unto this place ye have been rebellious against the Lord’, Deuteronomy 9:7′ (Dr. J. Brown).
“When your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My works forty years” (verse 9). Israel’s terrible sins in the wilderness are here set forth under two terms: they “tempted” and “proved” Jehovah, the latter being added as an explanation of the former. To tempt one is to try or prove whether he be such as he is declared to be, or whether he can or will do such and such a thing. By tempting God Israel found out by experience that He was indeed the God He had made Himself known to be. In this passage the tempting of God is set down as a sin which provoked Him, and so is to be taken in its worst sense. Instead of believing His declaration, Israel acted as though they would discover, at the hazard of their own destruction, whether or not He would make good His promises and His threatenings.
“In particular men tempt God by two extremes: one is presumption, the other is distrustfulness. Both these arise from unbelief. That distrustfulness ariseth from unbelief is without all question. And however presumption may seem to arise from overmuch confidence, yet if it be narrowly searched into, we shall find that men presume upon unwarrantable courses, because they do not believe that God will do what is meet to be done, in His own way. Had the Israelites believed that God in His time and in His own way would have destroyed the Canaanites, they would not have presumed, against an express charge, to have gone against them without the ark of the Lord and without Moses, as they did, Numbers 14:40, etc. Alas, what is man!
“Men do presumptuously tempt God, when, without warrant, they presume on God’s extraordinary power and providence; that whereunto the devil persuaded Christ when he had carded Him up to a pinnacle of the temple, namely, to cast Himself down, was to tempt God; therefore, Christ gives him this answer, ‘Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God,’ Matthew 4:5-7. Men distrustfully tempt God when in distress they imagine that God cannot or will not afford sufficient succour. Thus did the king of Israel tempt God when he said, ‘The Lord hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab,’ 2 Kings 3:13. So that prince who said ‘Behold, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this thing be’, 2 Kings 7:2′ (Dr. W. Gouge).
“And saw My works forty years.” This brings out the inexcusableness and heinousness of Israel’s sin. It was not that Jehovah was a Stranger to them, for again and again He had shown Himself strong on their behalf. The “works” of God mentioned here are the many and great wonders which He did from the time that He first took them up in Egypt until the end of the wilderness journey. Some of them were works of mercy. In delivering them from enemies and dangers, and in providing for them things needful. Others were works of judgment, as the plagues upon the Egyptians, their destruction at the Red Sea, and His chastening of themselves. Still others were manifestations which He made of Himself, as by the Cloud which led them by day and by night, the awesome proofs of His presence on Sinai, and the Shekinah glory which filled the tabernacle. These were not “works” done in bygone ages, or in far-distant places, of which they had only heard; but were actually performed before them, upon them, which they “saw.” What clearer evidence could they have of God’s providence and power? Yet they tempted Him! The clearest evidences God grants to us have no effect upon unbelieving and obdurate hearts.
An unspeakably solemn warning is this for all who profess to be God’s people today. A still more wonderful and glorious manifestation has God now made of Himself than any which Israel ever enjoyed. God has been manifested in flesh. The only-begotten Son has declared the Father. He has fully displayed His matchless grace and fathomless love by coming here and dying for poor sinners. When He left the earth, He sent the Holy Spirit, so that we now have not a Moses, but the third Person of the Trinity to guide us. God made known His laws unto Israel, but His complete Word is now in our hands. What more can He say, than to us He has said! How great is our responsibility; how immeasureably greater than Israel’s is our sin and guilt, if we despise Him who speaks to us!
A further aggravation of Israel’s sin is that they saw God’s wondrous works for “forty years.” God continued His wonders all that time: despite their unbelief and murmuring the manna was sent daily till the Jordan was crossed! Man’s incredulity cannot hinder the workings of God’s power: “What if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid” (Romans 3:3). An incredulous prince would not believe that God could give such plenty as He had promised when Samaria by a long siege was famished; yet, “it came to pass as the man of God had spoken” (2 Kings 7:18). Nor would the Jews, nor even the disciples of Christ, believe that the Lord Jesus would rise again from the dead: yet He did so on the third day. O the marvellous patience of God! May the realisation of it melt and move our hearts to repentance and obedience.
“Wherefore I was grieved with that generation” (verse 10). In these words, and those which follow, we learn the fearful consequences of Israel’s sin. “When God says He ‘was grieved’ He means that He was burdened, vexed, displeased beyond that forbearance could extend unto. This includes the judgment of God concerning the greatness of their sin with all its aggravations and His determinate purpose to punish them. Men live, speak and act as if they thought God very little concerned in what they do, especially in their sins; that either He takes no notice of them, or if He do, that He is not much concerned in them; or that He should be grieved at His heart—that Isaiah, have such a deep sense of man’s sinful provocations—they have no mind to think or believe. They think that, as to thoughts about sins, God is altogether as themselves. But it is far otherwise, for God hath a concernment of honour in what we do; He makes us for His glory and honour, and whatsoever is contrary thereunto tends directly to His dishonour. And this God cannot but be deeply sensible of; He cannot deny Himself. He is also concerned as a God of Justice. His holiness and justice is His nature, and He needs no other reason to punish sin but Himself” (Dr. John Owen).
“And said, They do always err in their heart” (verse 10). To err in the heart signifies to draw the wicked and false conclusion that sin and rebellion pay better than subjection and obedience to God. Through the power of their depraved lusts, the darkness of their understandings, and the force of temptations, countless multitudes of Adam’s fallen descendants imagine that a course of self-will is preferable to subjection unto the Lord. Sin deceives: it makes men call darkness light, bitter sweet, bondage liberty. The language of men’s hearts Isaiah, “What is the Almighty, that we should serve Him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto Him?” (Job 21:15). Note Israel “always erred in their hearts,” which evidenced the hopelessness of their state. They were radically and habitually evil. As Moses told them at the end, “Ye have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you” (Deuteronomy 9:24).
“And they have not known My ways” (verse 10). The word “ways” is used in Scripture both of God’s dispensations or providences and of His precepts. A way is that wherein one walks. It is not God’s secret “ways” (Isaiah 55:9, Romans 9:33), but His manifest ways are here in view. His manifest ways are particularly His works, in which He declares Himself and exhibits His perfections, see Psalm 145:17. The works of God are styled His “ways” because we may see Him, as it were, walking therein: “they have seen Thy goings, O God” (Psalm 68:24). Now it is our duty to meditate on God’s works or “ways” (Psalm 143:5), to admire and magnify the Lord in them (Psalm 138:4,5), to acknowledge the righteousness of them (Psalm 145:17). God’s precepts are also termed His way and “ways” (Psalm 119:27, 32, 33, 35), because they make known the paths in which He would have us walk. Israel’s ignorance of God’s ways, both His works and precepts, was a wilful one, for they neglected and rejected the means of knowledge which God afforded them; they obstinately refused to acquire a practical knowledge of them, which is the only knowledge of real value.
“So I sware in My wrath, They shall not enter into My rest” (verse 11). This was the fearful issue of Israel’s sin. The patience of God was exhausted. Their inveterate unbelief and continued rebellion incensed Him. The sentence He pronounced against them was irrevocable, confirmed by His oath. The sentence was that they should not enter into Canaan, spoken of as a “rest” because entrance therein would have terminated their wilderness trials and travels; “God’s rest,” because it would complete His work of bringing Israel into the land promised their fathers, and because His sojournings (see Leviticus 25:23) with His pilgrims would cease.
“We may observe,
1. When God expresseth great indignation in Himself against sin, it is to teach men the greatness of sin in themselves.
2. God gives the same stability unto His threatenings as unto His promises. Men are apt to think the promises are firm and stable, but as for the threatenings, they suppose some way or other they may be evaded.
3. When men have provoked God by their impenitency to decree their punishment irrevocably, they will find severity in the execution.
4. It is the presence of God alone that renders any place or condition good or desirable, ‘they’ shall not enter into My rest” (Dr. John Owen).
“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (verse 12). Here the apostle begins to make a practical application to the believing Hebrews of the solemn passage which has just been quoted from the 95th Psalm. He warns them against the danger of apostatising. This is clear from the expression “in departing from the living God.” The same Greek verb is rendered “fall away” in Luke 8:13, and in its noun form signifies “apostasy” in 2Thessalonians 2:3. Such apostasy is the inevitable outcome of giving way to an “evil heart of unbelief,” against which the apostle bids those to whom he was writing to “take heed.”
Thus the contents of this verse at once bring before us a subject which has been debated in Christendom all through the centuries—the possibility or the impossibility of a true child of God apostatising and finally perishing. Into this vexed question we shall not here enter, as the contents of the verses which immediately follow will oblige us taking it up, in our next article. Suffice it now to say that what is here in view is the testing of profession; whether the profession be genuine or spurious, the ultimate outcome of that testing makes evident in each individual’s case.
“Take heed brethren.” The introducing here of this blessed and tender title of God’s saints is very searching. Those unto whom the apostle was writing, might object, “The scripture you have cited has no legitimate application to us; that passage describes the conduct of unbelievers, whereas we are believers.” Therefore does the apostle again address them as “brethren;” nevertheless, he bids them “take heed.” They were not yet out of danger, they were still in the wilderness. Those mentioned in Psalm 95 began well, witness their singing the praises of Jehovah on the farther shores of the Red Sea (Exodus 15). They too had avowed their fealty to the Lord: “all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8); yet the fact remains that many of them apostatised and perished in the wilderness. Therefore the searching relevancy of this word, “take heed brethren lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief.”
“In departing from the living God.” The reference here is plainly to the Lord Jesus Himself. In Matthew 16:16 the Father is denominated “the living God,” here and in 1Timothy 4:10 the Son Isaiah, in 2Corinthians 6:16 (cf 1Cor 3:16) the Holy Spirit is. The reason for the application of this Divine title to the Savior in this verse is apparent: the temptation confronting the Hebrews was not to become atheists, but to abandon their profession of Christianity. The unbelieving Jews denounced Jesus Christ as an impostor, and were urging those who believed in Him to renounce Him and return to Judaism, and thus return to the true God, Jehovah. That Christ is God the apostle had affirmed here, in verse 4, and he now warns them that so far from the abandonment of the Christian profession and a return to Judaism being a going back to Jehovah, it would be the “departing from the living God.” That Christ was the true and living God had been fully demonstrated by the apostle in the preceding chapters of this epistle.
The extent to which and the manner in which the warning from Psalm 95 and the admonition of Hebrews 3:12 applies to Christians today, we must leave for consideration till the next chapter. In the meantime let us heed the exhortation of 2Peter 1:10, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure,” and while attending to this duty, let us pray the more frequently and the more earnestly for God to deliver us from “an evil heart of unbelief.”