The Expository Files

"A Warning From The Wilderness"  

Hebrews 3:7-19

In the first six verses of Hebrews 3, the supremacy of Jesus over Moses is presented. He is shown to be superior to Moses not in faithfulness, but in His person and service. Moses was a servant in the house of God, but Jesus was the builder of the house and serves as the Son over the house. In verse 6, the writer affirms that "WE" are the house of Christ. Of course He is referring to the church, which Paul says in 1Tim. 3:15 is the house of God. In Eph. 2:11-22, Paul says that in Christ Jews and Gentiles are "members of the household of God," and that together with the faithful saints of old (including Moses) we are now "fellow citizens" in the commonwealth of Israel. And yet our status as the "house" is conditional. Verse 6 says, "whose house we are if we hold fast ...." So we have to hold fast "the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end."

This need for steadfastness, or faithfulness, explains the exhortations found in this letter. We saw it in the first exhortation in 2:1-4 with regard to "The Danger Of Drifting." And now we come to the second exhortation regarding "The Danger Of Departing From The Living God" in 3:7-19.

This section seems to follow three trains of thought:

"The Example Of Israel In The Wilderness" (vs. 7-11).
"The Danger Of Departing" (vs. 12-14).
"The Example Of Israel In The Wilderness" (vs. 15-19).

The first thing we need to understand about Israel in the wilderness is that Israel hardened their hearts. The quotation found in vs. 7-11 is from Psa. 95:7-11, where the Holy Spirit warned Israel not to be like their fathers in the wilderness. And the writer to the Hebrews found this warning to be just as necessary in his day.

In the wilderness, the Israelites hardened their hearts in rebelling against God. They tested (or tried) God with their lack of faith. And that is the reason they did not enter God's rest. God became angry with that generation in the wilderness because of their persistent rebellion (Psa. 106:13-33). And so in Num. 14:22-24 and 26-35, God swore that they would not enter His rest. Of all those over the age of twenty when they left Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb entered the Promised Land. All the rest, of which there were 603,548 men, died in the wilderness. Because of their hardened hearts, Israel departed from God. They rebelled against God. And because of their rebellion, they fell short of the Canaan rest that had been promised to them.

The Danger of Departing (vs. 12-14).
Now, with this "Warning From The Wilderness" fresh in their minds, the writer next exhorts his brethren by warning them of "The Danger of Departing." And so, we need to BEWARE. You see, a believer can develop "an evil heart of unbelief." Back in v. 1, the recipients of this letter were called "holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling," which means that this warning against developing a heart of unbelief is presented as a real possibility! A "believer" can become an "unbeliever"! And unbelief is produced when you are "hardened through the deceitfulness of sin."

Sin is deceitful! It promises pleasure, power and prestige. And in the short term it may seem to deliver on that promise. But such things are "passing," or temporary. Later in 11:25, the writer talks about why Moses left the luxury of the palace of Pharaoh and says, "choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin." John warns us in 1John 2:17 not to love the world because "the world is passing away, and the lusts of it." The rewards of sin are "passing away." They are temporary. But because sin is deceitful, it is easy for us to become "hardened," to become stubborn and not willing to heed the Word of God. It happened to Israel, and it can happen to us! And the consequence of such unbelief is "departing from the living God." As you grow in unbelief, you drift away from God. While a believer remains in fellowship with God, an unbeliever can only depart farther and farther away from God.

So the solution is to "exhort one another daily." This is how a believer avoids becoming an unbeliever. Through mutual edification on a daily basis we can prevent the "hardening" that comes from sin's deceitfulness. And an important part of such exhortation is our assembling together (Heb. 10:24-25; Acts 20:7). But with the need for "daily exhortation," do you think that we should be content to limit our assembling to just one service a week? Don't you think that if we have the opportunity to assemble more often that we ought to? We need to "exhort one another daily."

But this passage shows us once again the conditional nature of our participation with Christ. In v. 6, we are the house of Christ "If we hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm to the end." And now in v. 14, we have become partakers of Christ "If we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end." Yet someone is bound to ask, "But what about the security of the believers?" Well, the "believer" does indeed enjoy the assurance of his salvation. But we've already seen that a "believer" can develop "an evil heart of unbelief." In other words, a "believer" can become an "unbeliever." Or as the writer says in v. 12, "Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God." And so, when a "believer" becomes an "unbeliever" all of the promises of security and salvation there are for the "believer" no longer apply to the "unbeliever." And that is why there are so many warnings to remain faithful, including that of our Lord in Rev. 2:10, where He says "be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life."

The Example Of Israel In The Wilderness (vs. 15-19).
In fact, the danger of departing from God is so great that the writer next returns to the example of Israel in the wilderness and another appeal is made. Quoting again from Psa. 95:7-8, the writer says "Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion." Now notice that the writer applies this quotation to Christians. You see, Christians need to "hear His (God's) voice." In 1:1-2, the writer said, "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son." And then in 2:1-4, he returns to this theme and says, "Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will? When he says "hear His voice," he means to hear with a desire to hearken, because we too can easily harden our hearts "as in the rebellion."

And so, there is the need for Christians to believe and obey. In the case of the Israelites, who was it who rebelled? It was all of those who came out of Egypt except for Joshua and Caleb. Although they had been led by Moses and delivered from Egyptian bondage, they still rebelled. And so the point is that although we may have been delivered by Christ from the bondage of sin, rebellion is still possible even for us. In the case of the Israelites, with whom was God angry for forty years? It was with all of those who sinned. And they died in the wilderness as a result of their lack of faith. So if we become hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, do you think that we will escape judgment? In the case of the Israelites, who was it that God did not allow into the Promised Land? It was those who did not obey. It was those who had developed unbelief. And so, if we disobey through unbelief, are we going to enter our promised rest?

When the apostle Paul related some of the same experiences of Israel in the wilderness, he said in 1Cor. 10:11, "Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come." My friends, it is for our admonition that we have such warnings as these found in our text because the deceitfulness of sin is just as strong today. They are there because the hardening of one's heart is just as dangerous today. They are there because departing from God is just as possible today. The potential for falling short of our promised rest is just as much a reality for us as it proved to be for the Israelites in the wilderness. And that is why we need to "exhort one another daily" to remain strong in the faith and to remain strong in obedience.

Have you exhorted any of your brothers or sisters lately?

By Joe Stroud
From Expository Files 8.6; June 2001