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 put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’”
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, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
“Listen to my voice!” “Listen to it!” These were the words shouted as darkness surrounded me. It was a last-minute decision by my father to take me and my younger brother hunting late one afternoon. This was not abnormal for our family to go late in the day; deer can be quite active at dusk. My father had placed me and my younger brother at different spots on the large tract of hunting land to improve our chances of bringing home a deer. Before my father left me, he instructed that he would come for me at some point so, “Do not leave or move until I come back.” As afternoon became evening and the sun continued to sink deeper and deeper into the earth, I wondered, “Where he is?” and “Has he forgotten about me?” As a young boy in the wilderness and surrounded by pitch-black darkness, anxiety and fear abounded.
The author of Hebrews, a pastor who is very concerned for the souls of his congregation, shares with his people a warning from long ago. A church of Jewish people would be intimately aware and knowledgeable about their history as God’s people. A history filled with disobedience and rebellion against God, but a past filled with God’s deliverance of His people. The nation of Israel stood on the edge of entry into the Promised Land. They had endured so much, but only because the God who brought them through the wilderness had delivered them from their trials. As they stood looking at a land of milk and honey, one final test stood before them: a land filled with mighty warriors and great cities inhabited the land, would God help His people conquer these inhabitants? Essentially, would God keep His promise? In a fit of angst, fear, and ultimately disbelief, Israel did not trust God’s Word and would rather return to Egypt. Their disbelief led to more wandering in the wilderness. Despite evidence of God’s provision and protection in the past, Israel’s disbelief was their condemnation. They refused to listen and believe God’s Word.
The pastor sees an eerie similarity between the history of the Israelites and his congregation. The pastor’s congregation is on the precipice of rebellion. They have come to be deceived by sinfulness. Instead of harkening to God’s Word and trusting God’s promises, this congregation is tempted to return to old ways and patterns of religiosity from their past. The author of Hebrews warns his church to not commit the same error as their forefathers: do not turn back, do not harden their hearts to God’s Word, but have confidence in God’s Word and His promises.
And, yet, this is our own temptation. Do I really trust God? Is His Word trustworthy? This was the assault that the Serpent launched in the Garden at Adam and Eve, “Did God really say?” The attack was a questioning and undermining of God’s Word. What Adam and Eve, the nation of Israel, the house church in the book of Hebrews, and we today struggle to believe is that God is faithful and true. Rather than having confidence in Him and remembering His works, our hearts are prone to illusions of safety, comfort, satisfaction in lesser things whether they are people, possessions, jobs or career goals, education, social status, or schools. The act to place our confidence in anything other than God is rebellion. And the continual, willful act hardens our hearts to the sensitivity of the sin.
The author of Hebrews pleads with his congregation to not only listen out for God’s voice, but to trust it and obey it. Any disobedience – ultimately disbelief – that persists creates a callousness encapsulating the heart from the tender prick of God’s Word. It is grace to hear His voice and to respond, and to disobey is a long, slow death – a hardening of the heart. As struggles, trials, and temptations stand before us, the question remains, will we trust that God is true and faithful? Will God preserve me in the midst of my struggle and pain? Or will I look for someone or something else to relieve me of the struggle, pain, and hurt? Will I hear and respond to God’s Word in faith? Or, will I remain determined to outsource my salvation?
As darkness continued to loom around me, off in the distance I heard dried leaves crunching and fallen branches snapping. My fear surged even more. “Was it a deer? A coyote?” I wondered. But then, to my delight and relief, my father’s voice rang out, “Are you there? Are you okay? I’m here now.” “Yes, I’m here!” I replied. My father then issued instructions: “Walk towards me. Listen to my voice! Listen to it!” As he continued to call out, I began to take careful steps towards my father’s location. Each time his voice rang out in the cold night air and with each step, my fear and anxiety subsided. He had come for me, he had kept his word, and when I was in his presence, I felt, and knew, that I was where I was supposed to be, and I was safe at last.