Do Not Harden Your Hearts
(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)
Our last study concluded with Hebrews 3:6. The author continued to prove that Christ is vastly superior to any other being used to reveal God's Word, including prophets, angels, and Moses. We learned that Moses was "faithful" and Jesus Christ was "faithful." But the difference was that Moses was faithful as a servant in God's house, while Jesus was faithful as a "Son" over God's house. This fact alone proves Christ superiority over Moses.
Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, "Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tried (Me) by testing (Me), and saw My works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with this generation, and said,' They always go astray in their heart, and they did not know My ways as I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest." Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is (still) called "Today," lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end; while it is said, "Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me." For who provoked (Him) when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt (led) by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? And (so) we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.
Verse 7 begins the second warning passage in the book of Hebrews. This warning passage continues until 4:13, and is an application of the comparison that we have examined between Moses and Christ. The warning is divided into two sections.
Verses 7-11 record the Old Testament event of Israel's conduct in the wilderness, taken from Psalm 95:7-11. The author is going to build upon this event.
Verses 12-19 apply directly to the Hebrew readers. The point of the author is that there is a similarity between what happened to Israel because of their conduct in the Old Testament, and the response of us who have believed the revelation of Christ.
This section begins with the word "Therefore," and is meant to be connected with "Take care" in verse 12. In other words, the author is saying "Therefore," because of the example we have of Israel's conduct from Psalm 95 (verses 7-11), "Take care" (be on guard).
The quote from Psalm 95 is introduced as an address from "...the Holy Spirit" in verse 7. This is an interesting point because how many times have you heard the argument, "How can you tell me that the Bible is infallible? It wasn't written by God Himself. It was human writers who put their pens to the paper." Verse 7 silences this argument. David was a human being, but according to the author of Hebrews it was the "Holy Spirit" who wrote Psalm 95.
Obviously, the truth of the entire Bible hangs on this one point. If it is only a book written by men who had some ideas about God, it is worthless. Everyone has an idea about God. But if it is God who spoke to men, and told them what to write in the Bible, this book becomes the most important source of truth known to man because it is the very Word of God.
This truth is also revealed in Acts 4:24-25. In this scenario, Peter and John had been arrested. After their release, they went to their friends and reported all that had been said and done to them; "And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, 'O Lord, it is Thou who didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the HOLY SPIRIT, through the mouth of our father David Thy servant, didst say... ." Again, we see that the Scriptures were not written by men, but through men by the Holy Spirit.
This truth is examined by Peter as well; 'But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." God's Spirit moved men to write because it was God who determined what man needed to hear.
The message from the Old Testament that the Holy Spirit gives beginning in verse 7 is "...Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me." One will notice that, throughout this entire warning passage, the word "Today" is very prevalent. It is used five times (verses 7, 13, 15, and twice in 4:7). The stress is on the fact that "Today" is the day of opportunity to respond to and believe the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Every human being that has lived, lives now, or will live, will respond to the revelation of God. We all will have the opportunity to hear His voice, and respond to it in only one of two ways: believe it or reject it. No one, after hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ, can go out and say, "I'm not going to decide what I think." In not deciding, a decision has been made. The Gospel has been rejected. We either have to accept what the Bible says, or we reject what the Bible says. There is no in between in the eyes of God.
The author says "...if you hear His voice...." In other words, "if you hear the revelation that He has given of Himself." As we will see, the author is going to tie in this verse from Psalm 95 and apply it to the revelation given through Jesus Christ.
The author continues, warning us, "...do not harden your hearts... ." To harden our hearts means to close our hearts and minds to what God has to say. We become unwilling to accept what God says as truth. We reject Him for our own ideas, which are sinful.
In verses 8-9, we see that the author refers to a specific incident in time. He says, "...as when they provoked Me as in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, and saw My works for forty years." The Israelites tried God, they tested Him. They declared, "If your God, do this for us and we will believe You." They were in rebellion against God. It is similar to your children coming up to you and saying, "If you love me, you will let me do what I want, when I want." It is an act of rebellion. God does not have to prove Himself.
Moses outlines this rebellion by the Israelites in the book of Exodus. In chapter 17, we see that the people of Israel begin to complain to Moses about God's plan. They are thirsty, and have no water to drink, but they refuse to trust God. They say, "...Give us water that we may drink' And Moses said to them 'Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?' " (vs 2). It is not that the people were just thirsty that is the focus of this verse. It is the fact that Israel tests the Lord. This is a theme that we see throughout Israel's forty years in the wilderness. From the time that they are in Egypt, the people of Israel test and try the Lord with their grumbling and unbelief.
In Exodus 17:3-6 we see that the Lord is merciful to the people of Israel, and He allows Moses to strike a rock, out of which water flows. But the grumbling of the people of Israel would not be forgotten; "And he named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, 'Is the Lord among us or not?' " (vs 7)
Deuteronomy 9:7 shows us what Israel was like after forty years in the wilderness. Moses says, "Remember, do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord." In spite of all the miracles that God performed during those forty years, in spite of all the things God did for Israel, every time a new crisis came up, the people of Israel rebelled against the Lord.
It is the same for the people to whom the author of Hebrews is writing. It has been almost forty years since Christ had been crucified when the author wrote this letter, and these Hebrews were exhibiting some of the same characteristics toward Christ as the Israelites in the wilderness showed toward God. The revelation of Christ has been continually shown to the Hebrews, yet they have constantly shown rebellion toward it. The parallel between Moses and the Israelites, and the author and the Hebrews is clear. The Hebrews, by rebelling against Christ, are also rebelling against the revelation of Moses, just as the Israelites had done.
The author continues his quotation of Psalm 95 in verses 10-11; "Therefore I was angry with this generation, and said, 'They always go astray in their heart; and they did not know my ways; as I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest." What was the consequence that the Israelites faced for not trusting and obeying God? They could not enter His "rest." This is a sobering reality.
This example of Israel's sin is found in Numbers 13 and 14. In this account, spies from Israel go to the promised land from Kadesh-barnea. They spy out the land for forty days, and as they were told, it was fertile and lush. They say "...We went to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is the fruit" (Numbers 13:27). The Israelites were pleased with the promised land that God had promised them, but notice what happens almost immediately after the report of the spies. "Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there" (Numbers 13:28). They are saying, "Yes God, the land is beautiful, BUT..." They immediately begin to complain about the people who already live in the land. They have already forgotten that it is God who has promised them the land. They fail to believe that He can give them this land if He wants to.
Israel continues grumbling in chapter 14; "Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. And all the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, 'Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! And why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?" (Numbers 14:1-3). The Israelites have already given up! They have seen the promised land that God has told them He would give them, yet they are ready to throw in the towel. They say "It would be better if we would have died in Egypt, or in the wilderness." They go as far to say that they wish they could return to Egypt!
But what did they say when they were in Egypt? They grumbled and pleaded with the Lord to get them out. Now their prayer is that they die rather than go into the promised land and fight the inhabitants there. What does God do? He answers their prayer. He says to Moses, "...How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?" (Numbers 14: 11).
Then, in 14:22-23, the Lord answers the prayer of those who have rejected Him; "Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs, which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it.' The only people above 20 years of age who would live to see the promised land are Caleb and Joshua. They were the only ones in this age group who trusted the Lord.
Isn't this an Ironic truth? This is the characteristic of Israel. They saw God, they saw His miraculous works in their lives, yet they still could not trust Him. Instead of entering the promised land, they were sent to wander in the wilderness for forty years, where everyone over 20 years old (except Caleb and Joshua) would perish. They did not enter God's rest. The tragedy is that Israel never did learn its lesson. They continued to grumble against the Lord throughout the Old Testament.
Now, when we read the accounts of Israel throughout the Old Testament we think, "How could Israel have been so blind? God was in their midst, doing incredible things, yet they spurned Him." The truth is, we are in danger of becoming just like Israel. This is the point of this warning passage. Remember the "Therefore" in verse 7, and how it connects to verse 12? This is where the warning for the Hebrews (and for us) begins. The author says, "Take care brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God." The author is saying, "Beware, Hebrews, do not become like Israel"
Remember, Hebrews was written to Jews who professed to be believers in Jesus Christ, but under pressure they are thinking about returning to Judaism. As we have seen, and will see again in this section, that may be an indication that they never had truly trusted Christ as their Savior.
The issue has been the same for all time. It is one of faith. The same question confronts us today that Israel and the Hebrews had to answer: "Will we believe what God has said, or reject Him?" Those who reject Him will be confronted with the reality of His judgment just as Israel was. They will not be allowed to experience the blessings, and "rest" that God offers His children.
Notice how an unbeliever is characterized. The author says an unbelieving heart is an "evil" heart. You may say, "Wait a minute. I haven't done anything really bad. I would not characterize myself as 'evil.' "That may be true, but unless you believe the revelation of Jesus Christ in its entirety, you have an evil heart according to God.
When we reject the revelation of God, we are "apostatizing" Him, or "falling away" from Him. Those who reject the revelation of God have literally "departed" from Him. It is important that we understand this point. The Jews, to whom the author of Hebrews is writing, were not atheists. They were not saying, "We are turning our backs on God, and everything He stands for." But Hebrews 3:12 illustrates the truth that when one turns his back on Jesus Christ, he turns his back on God, because He is God, and the revelation of God.
This is a danger to us today as well, How many people have convinced themselves that they can have a relationship with God without fully believing His revelation concerning Jesus Christ? They have fooled themselves because, according to Scripture, when one rejects Christ, that person also rejects God, and is viewed by God as "evil."
Notice that the author issues this warning to "any one." This is a call for all of us to examine ourselves to make sure we are in the faith. It is a personal issue for each one of us. All too often we, as believers, are far too quick to point out the sin of others while ignoring our own sin. The warning in verse 12 is clear: each one of us needs to "take care."
Verse 13 gives us the positive side of this warning; "But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called 'Today,' lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Sin is working to deceive us by telling us "You are okay before God. Don't worry about examining yourself to be sure of your salvation. You've done the best you could have done, and in reality, you really haven't been all that bad." That type of deception leads to the sin-hardened heart the author is warning us about.
This is the reason that some people can come to a church week after week, yet never receive the true salvation that has been provided in Christ. They have been hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, and they think that they are fine in their position. Some might even base their condition on an experience.
But the message of God is that we are all sinners separated from God for eternity, unless we trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone for our salvation. If one does not accept this salvation, he has not experienced any salvation. And of course, this salvation will be evident in one's life here on earth.
Typically, we think the issue of a hardened heart ends with the unbeliever, but believers are deceived by a sin-hardened heart as well. Consider your own life. Has there ever been a time when you were hardened to an area of sin, and were unreceptive of the Holy Spirit? This is a danger to every believer. But we are to "...encourage one another day after day... ." One can see how imperative this is to our walk with Christ. The author doesn't say "Encourage one another every once in a while." He says we must be an encouragement to one another every single day. The reason this is so important is because we can help each other avoid a hardened heart. Your sin doesn't harden me, nor does my sin harden you. Therefore, if we encourage one another, we can help each other live out our faith, which is a clear indication that salvation has occurred.
The author denotes the oneness we have with Christ in verse 14; "For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end." As believers, we share in Him as members of His body because we "hold fast."
The phrase "become partakers" is written in the perfect tense in Greek, indicating an event that happened in the past and continues into the present. We became "partakers" of Christ the moment we believed in His person and work. The result is that we continue to share in Him today, tomorrow, and for all eternity.
The warning is that we are "partakers" only if we "hold fast." Again, the point is that only true believers will be able to "hold fast" and "become partakers." Remember, Hebrews was written to Jews who professed Christ, but some of them were returning to Judaism. The indication is that they were not truly believers. The same is true for us today. Those who claim to be believers, yet return to a false worship system have never been able to "hold fast." Why? Because they have never "become partakers." Those who are true believers will never turn back to their previous false worship. The evidence is that true believers will hold fast to their assurance from "the beginning until the end."
Again, many professing believers base the assurance of their salvation on some kind of an experience, while at the same time their lives do not prove that they have "become partakers." Only true believers will hold fast "until the end."
The author repeats his warning not to be deceived by sin in verse 15. He says, "While it is said, 'Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked me." Again we are warned to be alert to sin. We cannot close ourselves off to what God is saying. If we are sitting in church listening to a pastor, and we happen not to agree with him, is it because the pastor is wrong, or is it because we are being hardened by sin? We need to examine ourselves and be sure we are continually being exposed to the truth of the Word of God. If His Word tells us to do something, it doesn't matter how we FEEL about the subject. He is God, and His Word is the final authority.
In verses 16-18, the author asks three questions and then answers those questions with three more questions. He asks "For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient?" He is telling the Hebrews, "Beware, just because you have heard the message does not mean you are saved. Israel also heard the message, but look what happened to them."
Some people think that God will never condemn anyone. But how long was He angry with Israel? Forty years. It is a terrible thing to stir up the anger of God. And if one doesn't respond to God's love in the person of Jesus Christ, he will experience the wrath of God for all of eternity. The result of Israel's unbelief was their destruction in the wilderness. Everyone who died in the wilderness thought that they were part of Israel, but God says, "they should not enter His rest." We need to remember this truth today: it isn't the group of people you belong to that determines your salvation. It is the condition of your heart before God.
The questions are: Have you realized that you are a sinner destined for an eternal hell? If so, have you ever placed your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to save you from your sin? If you can answer "Yes! " to those questions, you will have "rest." If not, it doesn't matter how hard you try, who you know, where you go to church, if you've been baptized, if you've said a prayer, or whether you've walked an aisle. You have stored up God's eternal wrath against you.
The author clarifies the reason that those who died in the wilderness died because of their sin; "And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief." Again, we see that the key issue in this section of Hebrews is UNBELIEF. Those who died in the wilderness in Psalm 95 did so because they did not believe what God had told them. Their hearts were hardened to the Word of God. If you have heard the Word of God, but refuse to believe that you are a sinner, and that only Jesus Christ can set you free from your sin when you place your faith and trust in Him, why do you turn your back on God?
Maybe you don't like the way it makes you feel. Maybe it wounds your pride. Or maybe you just think that those who have shared the Gospel with you are narrow minded and judgmental. Well, the truth is that it doesn't matter how you feel about the Gospel, it doesn't matter how you feel about the pastor who shared it with you, and it doesn't matter if you think someone who shared the Gospel with you is narrow minded. Those are not the parameters you will be judged by when you stand before God. The only question at that time will be one of your belief. Did you believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or not? How you answer that question determines where you will spend eternity. You say you have believed the message? What evidence of that belief is there in your life?
When you become a child of God you are made a new person. You are brought into a personal relationship with God. You have been forgiven your sins, and given His rest. That makes a difference in your life. You are changed, and you will "hold fast.'
Where are you today? Are you one who has heard the message of salvation, but refuses to believe because of a hardened heart? If so, do you understand that the consequence of your unbelief is eternity in hell, separated from the love and rest that only God can provide?
If you have believed, are you being encouraged every day in your faith, so that you don't close portions of your life off to God, stunting your spiritual growth? As believers, we must pay attention to the deceitfulness of sin so that we can serve our Lord every day to the fullest.
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