Well it looks like we won’t be meeting for our regular interactive inductive study through Hebrews in the near future. So, I thought I’d take some time to reflect on some of the things we’ve covered thus far and ask the Lord to work it deep into our hearts and minds. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the best place to start might be the author’s second extended exhortation found in Heb. 3:7-14:
7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
The author makes the the first part of our job easy in drawing a clear connection between Old Testament, wilderness-wandering Israel and New Testament believers. Israel did not trust the goodness of God and did not enter the rest of the promised land; likewise, we must also trust the goodness of God if we are to make it to the rest of heaven.
How did Israel fail to trust God? What did they do wrong? Verses 7-11 are a quotation of Psalm 95, which references at least three separate events found in Exodus 17:1-7, Numbers 20:2-13 and Numbers 14. In Exodus 17 the children of Israel grumble against Moses and the Lord because they don’t have water to drink. Verse 3 indicates that they are thirsty enough that they are worried about dying. The Lord instructs Moses to take his staff and strike a rock. Moses obeys and and water flows from the rock for the people to drink. This section concludes by saying, “And [Moses] called the name of the place Massah and Mariah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’”
The quarrel Israel has with the Lord is over what is “good” for them. They didn’t doubt the Lord’s power or ability to provide water. They had seen him bring ten plagues on the Egyptians, thus sending them out of Egypt rich and victorious. They had even seen his elemental power over water when He parted the Red Sea. People rarely doubt the Lord’s ability, they doubt His goodness, his desire to do what is best for them. The question “Is the Lord among us or not?” even smells of sarcasm. As if they know the Lord is among them, but it seems like He’s not, because if he were, they wouldn’t lack water a basic necessity for life.
The author of Hebrews describes their quarreling from God’s perspective: “They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.” They loved God for what he gave them and when He stopped giving them water for a time, and they could not see where the water was going to come from, they attacked His character. They presumed to know what good things God should do. They didn’t understand that it is just like God to remove the certainty of life, so that we must trust Him. That often God brings the fog of suffering and pain, clouding the way, so that we can see only to take the next hopeful step.
How we comfort ourselves in these times matters. It’s easy in uncertain times to rest in statistics or to have presumptive expectations: “If God is with me and He’s truly good, this won’t happen to me or my loved ones. I won’t be thirsty to the point of death.” The destructiveness of these expectations is revealed when God fails to meet them. Usually our first reaction is fear: “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to kill us” “What if God’s going to let the worst happen?” Which can be followed by an angry quarreling with Lord that the author of Hebrews warns can “lead you to fall away from the living God.” In what are you finding hope and comfort?
Perhaps the most stunning aspect of this passage is the role we are called to play in each other’s endurance. The author writes in verse 12, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day…” The medicine against fear, doubt and ultimately apostasy is Christian community.
We need each other if we are to continue to trust the goodness of God until the end. It is important to check in with one another to see if we need groceries or medical attention, but we also must be on the look out for ungodly fear, the insidious shadow of doubt and the self-destruction of apostasy. Not only will the family of God need a practical hand, but no doubt we will need a Christ-honoring word with it. Verse 14 reminds us that we have this responsibility because we “share in Christ”.
Christ’s sacrifice was the clearest revelation of the ways of God and the most compelling display of His goodness towards us. He gave his only Son to ensure our eternal good and holiness. And now we share in the benefits of Christ’s atoning sacrifice as well as the responsibility to work them deep into each other through careful and loving exhortation.