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Hebrews 3.7-15 NOTES

Heb. 3:7-15 - BibleRef

CONTEXT:  Hebrews chapter 3 uses a reference to Israel's wandering in the desert from the story of the Exodus. In this incident, the nation of Israel came to the border of the Promised Land and then lost confidence in God. Rather than trusting Him, most of the people gave up hope. As a result, only a tiny remnant of the nation was allowed to enter into Canaan. This chapter explains that Jesus Christ is superior to Moses and all of Moses' accomplishments. Christians, therefore, need to encourage each other to fully trust in God, in order to see fulfillment of His promises.  Hebrews 3:7-14 uses the example of Israel's forty years in the wilderness (Numbers 13-14) as a warning. This is directed at Christians who fail to ''hold fast'' their faith in God during persecution. Israel was saved from Egypt, as believers are saved from eternal death through salvation. Israel was offered the Promised Land, as believers are promised victory through our spiritual inheritance. Israel lost faith and didn't trust God against the ''giants'' of Canaan, as believers can be tempted to lose faith in the face of persecution. The ancient Israelites were not sent back to Egypt, just as God does not revoke the salvation of Christian believers. However, both can expect hardship and a loss of fellowship if they fail to trust in God.

v. 7: Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, 'TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, - This chapter points out that Jesus is a greater example than Moses. As a result, the Jewish Christians who read this letter should see Christ as the ultimate example, and "hold fast" to faith in Him despite hard times. Here, the author of Hebrews introduces an example from Israel's history to explain what happens when a saved believer fails to "hold fast" in their trust for God. This is given in a quotation from Ps. 95:7-11, starting here and running through verse 11.  

• Psalm 95 depicts the dangers of a believer "hardening their heart" against God, specifically by being fearful or disobedient. Israel did just that in the wilderness, and as a result, God disciplined the nation with forty years of wandering.  

• The reference to the Holy Spirit is not the major point of this passage, but it is important. The writer of Hebrews, clearly, sees the Scriptures of the Old Testament as inspired by the Holy Spirit. These texts are not simply being quoted because they are familiar to the letter's readers. They are being quoted as the very words of God.  

• The term "today" is meant to imply urgency. This is not a trivial idea being discussed: this is immediate.

v. 8: DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME, AS ON THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS, - This verse continues a quotation of Psalm 95. There, God's people are warned not to disobey out of fear or a lack of belief. In Numbers chapters 13 and 14, Israel does just that. After being miraculously rescued from Egypt, Israel sent spies into Canaan, which God had given them to capture. Of the twelve spies sent, only two expressed faith in God. The other ten, along with most of Israel, balked at the idea of fighting the "giants" of Canaan. As a result, God put the nation through a time of discipline and testing. Only a tiny remnant of those alive at that moment of failure would survive to enter the Promised Land.

• The Greek of the New Testament uses the terms parapikrasmō and peirasmou when quoting Psalm 95, from the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. These words mean "provocation" and "trial," respectively. The ESV translates these as "rebellion" and "testing." Both in the Greek and the Hebrew these are references to events and to places. The original Hebrew uses the place-names Meribah and Massah, which literally mean "strife" and "temptation." Meribah and Massah (or Massah and Meribah) was the name given to the place at Kadesh where Israel complained against God and saw water come miraculously from a rock (Numbers 20:2-13). This was the incident which cost Moses his own entry into the Promised Land.

v. 9: WHERE YOUR FATHERS PUT ME to the test, AND SAW MY WORKS FOR FORTY YEARS. - This continues a quotation from Psalm 95. The author of Hebrews is pointing out the danger facing a Christian who does not "hold fast" to their faith when persecuted. The illustration from Psalm 95 refers to the failure of Israel in the wilderness just before they reached the Promised Land. Verse 8 mentioned "rebellion" and "testing," which are both events and the names given to certain places. In the Hebrew of Psalm 95, these are Meribah and Massah, which mean "strife" and "temptation." This was the place Israel complained against God.

• This verse more specifically mentions Israel's forty years of wandering. This was an act of discipline given by God. Rather than trusting Him-"holding fast"-they responded in doubt and fear when asked to move into Canaan (Numbers 13-14). So God forced them to wander aimlessly in the wilderness for decades. The application which the author of Hebrews intends comes most clearly in Hebrews 3:12-19. Christians who lose faith in the face of persecution can expect to lose fellowship and reward. They don't lose salvation (just as Israel was not sent back to Egypt), but they will suffer a loss of their spiritual inheritance.

v. 10: THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION, AND SAID, 'THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART, AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS'; - This is part of a quotation of Psalm 95. This Old Testament passage warns Israel not to repeat the mistakes of their past. After leaving Egypt, the people repeatedly disobeyed, defied, and resisted God. The "last straw" was their refusal to trust God in conquering the Promised Land. As a result, God forced the people to wander aimlessly in the desert for forty years, blocking all but a tiny remnant of that generation from entering Canaan. The application for a Christian is that those who do not "hold fast" to God's word can expect to lose out on the inheritance we have been offered. This is not a loss of salvation (no more than God sent Israel back to Egypt) but it is a consequence to be avoided.

• This Psalm also points out that Israel's disobedience was not a one-time event. Sadly, God's chosen people were often seen complaining, rebelling, disobeying, and criticizing God (Exodus 16:1-3; 32:1-8; Numbers 14:1-4). And yet, God still worked to save, preserve, and bless them. There was discipline, but not destruction. This is an encouraging reminder for us, today, when we see our own repeated failures.

v. 11: AS I SWORE IN MY ANGER, 'THEY CERTAINLY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.'?' - The author of Hebrews is using a quotation of Psalm 95 to illustrate an important point. Earlier verses explained that Jesus is a greater example than Moses, and so we should seek to follow Christ, even in times of hardship. Psalm 95 is a warning to Israel not to lose faith in God, as they did after leaving Egypt. Christians, then, are called on to "hold fast" to their faith, even under persecution, so they don't lose their fellowship and inheritance with God.

• The reference to "rest" here needs to be carefully understood. This part of Hebrews uses several meanings of "rest." This verse is a reference to Israel's victory in Canaan, as intended by God (Deuteronomy 12:9). The rebellious, faithless generation of Israel in the desert was barred from obtaining this victory. The Promised Land, however, is not meant to be a metaphor for salvation. Israel still had temptations, battles, and strife in Canaan. So, this is not a reference to a loss of salvation, for a Christian. This is further supported by the fact that Hebrews 4:9 will appeal to an eternal, ultimate "rest" of heaven, separate from what is mentioned here.

v. 12: Take care, brothers and sisters, that there will not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. - Prior verses quoted from Psalm 95, which warns Israel not to repeat their mistakes in the wilderness. There, Israel lost faith in God. They gave in to fear, and that led to disobedience and stubbornness. They did not "hold fast," and as a result, that generation was not allowed to enter into the Promised Land. God did not send Israel back into slavery in Egypt, but He disciplined the people for their lack of faith.

• Here, the application of the Psalm is made explicit. The Israelites' lack of trust caused them to fall away from God, and this resulted in discipline. The author of Hebrews is warning the Jewish Christians who read these words not to make the same mistake.  

• It's especially important to see the full context of this verse, since it uses two particular Greek words, apistias and apostēnai. These are translated in the ESV as "unbelieving" and "fall away," respectively. Apostēnai is the word from which we get the term "apostasty," which means a rebellion or defiance of authority. It is most frequently used to describe those who completely leave the Christian faith. However, like most such terms, there are varied levels and meanings of "falling away." In this case, the meaning is that of sin and faithlessness, not open rejection of God.  

• Once again, the context makes it clear that salvation is not at stake. The Promised Land is not a metaphor for heaven-Israel's rescue from Egypt is the symbol of salvation. God's wrath against the Jewish people in the wilderness was not to send them back to Egypt (symbolizing a return to an un-saved state). Rather, it was to deny them the blessings of the promised inheritance. Parts of chapter 4 will further support the idea that the author is speaking of sin in the life of a saved believer, not the potential loss of salvation. 

v. 13: But encourage one another every day, as long as it is still called 'today,' so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. - This passage is a warning to Christian believers not to allow stubbornness, sin, or a lack of faith to rob them of God's promised blessings. The nation of Israel suffered when it failed to "hold fast," and spent forty years wandering in the desert. So too can a Christian suffer when they lack trust and faith in God.

• One key to avoiding this pitfall is the influence of other Christian believers. One of the great benefits of healthy church relationships is loving correction. Having a meaningful, personal relationship with other Christians means "watching each other's back." This means warning our brothers and sisters in Christ when they are being pulled away into sin and helping them to resist temptation and error. The author's urgency is highlighted by using the phrase "as long as it is called 'today.'" This, in more modern terms, could be stated as "do it while you still can."  

• The New Testament often explains that sin is deceptive, destructive, and deadly (2 Timothy 3:13; Titus 3:3). It can also create a spiritual callous, making us less sensitive to our own sin (1 Timothy 4:2). Fellow Christians should love each other enough to "exhort," meaning "encourage, uplift, or challenge" each other when it comes to living a righteous life.

v. 14: For we have become partakers of Christ if we keep the beginning of our commitment firm until the end, - The context of this passage is set up by quotations from Psalm 95. That passage warns Israel not to fall into the same error as they did in the desert after the Exodus. When Israel failed to trust in God, they were disciplined with forty years of wandering, and most of that generation lost the opportunity to see victory in the Promised Land. In the same way, the writer of Hebrews is warning Christians not to forfeit their spiritual blessings by failing to "hold fast" their faith and obedience to God (Hebrews 3:6).

• With that idea in mind, the author states that those who do maintain their trust and obedience "have come to share" in Christ. This is from the Greek word metochoi, which is translated as "share," or "partakers." This is the same term, with the same basic meaning, as used in Hebrews 3:1. If we are faithful, we can share in the partnership Christ offers to us (Revelation 2:26-27). If we do not, and we fall into sin through an evil heart (Hebrews 3:12), then the same discipline which came to Israel in the desert is waiting for us, instead.

v. 15: while it is said, 'TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS, AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME.' - Verses 12 through 14 brought a very direct application of Psalm 95 to the discussion. Israel suffered discipline in the wilderness because the people acted in a faithless, stubborn way. The author of Hebrews has warned his readers not to make the same mistake due to their own sin. In fact, he commands Christians to exhort (encourage, challenge) each other to avoid such things. Here, he puts an exclamation point on his use of the Psalm by repeating the first verse quoted, Psalm 95:7.  

• The use of the term "today," both in Hebrews and in the Old Testament, is meant to be a call for urgency. This is not a topic to be taken lightly, or put off until some other time. The nation of Israel failed to "hold fast" to their trust in God (Hebrews 3:6), and it cost them dearly. They were not cast off by God-just as the Christians this letter is written to are not at risk of losing their salvation-but they were denied their inheritance due to their stubbornness.



Heb. 3:7-15 - EXEGESIS (Richison)

v. 7: Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you will hear His voice,

Overview:  Verses 7-11 show how the followers of Moses (He 3:1-6) abjectly failed to trust God in adversity. The second warning in Hebrews extends from 3:7 to 4:13. It is a warning to the people reading Hebrews that a previous generation did not take God at His Word.

The following section references Psalm 95 extensively. The argument from Psalm 95 is that many times God revealed Himself to Israel, but they rejected His message. We also see this in the judges and historical books of the Old Testament. It was their pattern to reject God's disclosures of Himself (Ps 78). Hebrews looks at Israel's behavior through the lens of rejection of divine revelation.

7 Therefore, - The word "therefore" relates back to verse 6 (skipped)

, where the argument was for the believer to "hold fast the confidence" and "hope" to the end of their lives. The challenge was for the readers of Hebrews to hold "confidence" in the assurance of what they believed. Some of the readers were in danger of drifting back into Judaism.

as the Holy Spirit says:  - The Holy Spirit is the primary author of Scripture; David, the human being, is the secondary author (He 9:8; 10:15). The Spirit in this case is the divine author of Psalm 95.  This is a quotation from Psalm 95:7-11. The first six verses of that psalm are a call to worship. We must understand Hebrews 3 in that context.

PRINCIPLE:  Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

APPLICATION:  The Bible comes to us by divine inspiration. God used both divine and human instrumentality to write His thoughts to mankind. Revelation is the mind of God given to the mind of man. The human author was not the primary originator of God's Word. It was the Holy Spirit speaking through the human author (2 Pe 1:21). Even beyond that, the Holy Spirit governed every word that the human author wrote (2 Ti 3:16).

At this point the Holy Spirit began to quote Psalm 95.

"Today, The word "today" carries a sense of urgency. Now is the time to listen to what God is saying to every believer (He 4:12). Hebrews uses the word "today" eight times (He 2:7; 3:7; 13, 15; 4:7 (two times); He 5:5; 13:8).

if you will hear His voice, The "if" here is conditional. The condition is to hear God's voice, His revelation. Reversionist Hebrew Christians were not responding to what God said; rather, they were hardening their hearts to it.

PRINCIPLE:  It is urgent that we deal with our problems in the present moment.

APPLICATION:  Many Christians begin their Christian lives well but end poorly. Putting off our problems makes our issues worse. It is much better to deal with them before they compound and become more complex.

There is such a thing as dealing with momentum when it comes to sin. We need to confess our sin before it gains a foothold and begins to establish impetus. Momentum sinning can gain its own energy and thrust. We arrest sin by confession (1 Jn 1:9). Confession of sin allows us to "hear His voice"; it prepares our soul to respond positively to what God says. God still speaks to believers today through His Word.

v. 8: Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial in the wilderness,

The historical context here is the hardening of the Israelites at Rephidim toward God when they lacked water and criticized Moses for it (Ex 17:1-7).

8 Do not harden your hearts - It is possible for a believer to harden our soul against God. Israel grumbled against God at Rephidim because of lack of water and this led to obstinance toward God (Ex 17:1).  "Harden" refers to hardening of the will here. It is a stubbornness toward God. The heart in both the Old and New Testaments means more than emotions; it includes the thought process and the will. It is possible to become stubborn and obstinate toward God's Word.

PRINCIPLE:  Believers can reach a condition of permanently disregarding God and His Word.

APPLICATION:  It is possible for the conscience to become cauterized. It is likely that some will sear their souls toward God (1 Ti 4:2). The Greek word for "seared" is scar tissue. Scar tissue on the skin does not allow us to feel an object very well; scar tissue on the soul makes us insensitive to sin and even to God Himself. There may come a day when we no longer become open to God. In that case we will be spiritually hard.

Due to Israel's rebellion and failure to trust God for water, Moses struck the rock for water and called the place "Massah" (testing) and "Meribah" (embitterment, contention). Israel contended with the Lord in the wilderness by asking whether God was with them or not.

as in the rebellion, - The word "as" indicates a comparison of David's generation to that of Moses. "The rebellion" refers to Massah and Meribah, where the Israelites rejected Moses' suggestion that God would provide for them (Ps 95:8). This happened shortly after their deliverance from Egypt at Rephidim (Ex 17:1-7).

Israel again rebelled over lack of water at Kadesh 40 years later (Nu 20:2-13). The people of Israel then murmured against God for want of water two times. At both events and even during the intervening 40 years, Israel showed a consistent pattern of going astray in their hearts.

The Greek word for "rebellion" comes from two words: alongside and to make bitter. This is an intense term carrying the idea of bitter provocation. The New Testament uses this word only here and in verse 15. It is also used in the Greek text of Psalm 95:8, which this passage quotes.

In the day of trial in the wilderness, -  In Numbers 14:11-22 Israel tested God and rejected His message. This was the episode at Kadesh-barnea. The Holy Spirit warned His readers not to repeat what Israel did in the wilderness. Having led Israel for 40 years through the wilderness, God brought them to the border of the Promised Land. On the very verge of entering their "rest," they once again displayed their unbelief by rejecting the positive but realistic report from surveying the land by Caleb and Joshua (Nu 14:7-8, 11). Their unbelief led to outright rebellion (Nu 14:9). They lost their privilege of entering the land.

PRINCIPLE: God puts believers at spiritual crossroads to test our belief.

APPLICATION: God put Israel at a crossroads to test their belief in His promises. However, they murmured at Meribah because there was no water. They focused their attention on the problem rather than on God's promises. Their murmuring was an expression of their unbelief.

The unbelief of Israel in the wilderness resulted in an entire generation not entering the Promised Land. They were recipients of God's grace, but they could not fully embrace it. The entire generation that came out of Egypt died before entering into God's promise.  We sometimes put God to the test when we meet adversity. We criticize Him for allowing us to undergo some trial.

9: Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, And saw My works forty years.

Where your fathers tested Me, - This verse uses two different Greek words for trial: "tested" and "tried." The word "tested" in this phrase means to put to the test to determine the quality of something, whether it has imperfections or some quality. It means to put to the test to determine what good or evil may come from a person.  The Israelites tested God by rejecting His will in the wilderness by unbelief (Ex 17:1-7; Nu 11:1-6; 20:2-13; Dt 9:22; Ps 78:18-20).

tried [proved] Me, - The second word, "tried," means to put to the test in order to approve whether someone meets a test. One specific area where Israel tried to prove God was at Rephidim. They reached a point where they did not have enough water to drink. Instead of trusting God to provide, they demanded water from Him and put Him to the test to see if He would provide (Ex 17:7). Yet God had provided for them in many ways. They neglected that thought for a momentary problem.

Why did not all God's previous provisions for them initiate more trust in Him? In the face of overwhelming intervention by God for them, they still did not trust Him. In the same way the first-century readers experienced persecution for their faith in Christ, but they crassly blamed God for what they were going through.


And saw My works forty years. - God's works were His acts of delivering His people during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. God provided for them with manna, quail, and water during those years. Israel saw God working over a 40-year period, so there was no excuse for their unbelief. They had no justification for not believing that God would provide because of the overwhelming evidence before them. They saw clear indications of God's providence and power over a protracted period. Israel was truly obdurate.


PRINCIPLE:  Trials along the way reveal the state of our hearts.


APPLICATION:  To be "tried" is an explanation of "tested." Israel put God on trial to prove whether He was what He claimed to be or could do and what He said He would do. God had proved Himself over and over, yet Israel did not believe what they saw. Christians do this today. We do it to our peril.

Trials always test our souls. They reveal the state of our condition before God. If we live in a period of smooth sailing, we may not recognize the true condition of our hearts. When the storm comes upon us, it will show how much we depend on God. Adverse circumstances do not change us; they show were we are spiritually. They expose us for what we are.

v. 10: Therefore I was angry with that generation, And said, 'They always go astray in their heart, And they have not known My ways.'

The quotation from Psalm 95 concludes with the next two verses.


Therefore - The "therefore" here shows the result of Israel's testing.


I was angry [displeased] with that generation,"Angry" here is not emotional but God's objective divine judgment upon Israel. He was strongly displeased with the Israelite generation.


And said, 'They always go astray in their heart, - The Exodus generation constantly went astray during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. "Go astray" means to depart from a standard. The Israelites were fundamentally led astray in their "heart" (personhood) from God's will.  And the word "always" shows the habitual nature of Israel's wayward proclivities.

And they have not known My ways.' - The believers of the wilderness generation did not know how to apply God's Word to their hearts. The word "known" is to know by experience. They did not experience the reality of knowing how to live out God's way of life; they were unbelieving in their approach to God.

For 40 years God demonstrated His grace to Israel. He revealed Himself through many means. Nevertheless, after showing Himself in numerous ways, Israel did not come to grips with who God was or what He did for them.  A way is the place wherein one walks. God's paths for people are clearly revealed. They are not abstruse or mysterious (Is 55:9).


PRINCIPLE:  The heart of most problems is a problem of the heart.


APPLICATION:  Failure to acquire principles of God's Word and ways always causes spiritual failure in the Christian way of life.  Failure to grow in grace is a serious problem among God's people today. If our hearts wander from God or His Word, then that will produce a progressive hardness of heart toward God. Although Israel saw many works and revelations of God, they constantly overlooked them and turned to their own devices to resolve their problems.

One of their thoughts was to return to Egypt. Imagine that! Egypt with its abject slavery! They would rather place their security in the slavery of Egypt than in the adventure God placed before them. Christians today would rather have the security of the sin than trust God for the future.


v. 11: So I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest.' "


So [as] I swore in My wrath, - The word "swore" indicates that God made an oath about Israel not entering the Promised Land. This indicates something of the intensity of how God viewed spiritual failure. As a result of some Israelites' unbelief about the Promised Land, God did not allow those who initially came out of Egypt to go in (Nu 14:20-35; Deut 1:34-40).

God pronounced a verdict on the Israelites of old by an oath. The oath is the next phrase: "They shall not enter My rest." Upon the nation's acceptance of the report of the 10 spies, God made a final decision about Israel's future. God's oath made His decision irrevocable.


'They shall not enter My rest.' " - "Rest" in this context is Israel's right to enter in the Promised Land. The theocratic nation could rest after entering God's provision of the national entity's place of prosperity. The word "rest" means to cease from activity. The compound for "rest" here means to change from activity to a period of refreshing tranquility.

▪ Many Israelites at Kadesh-barnea died; God did not permit the generation that came out of Egypt to enter the Promised Land. Those born during the 40 years of wandering were permitted to enter the land. This is based on Numbers 14:28-30. The unbelief seen as early as Meribah (Ex 17:1-7) manifested itself in full-blown rebellion against God later at Kadesh-barnea. Rebellion leads to catastrophic failure in living for God.

▪ The failure of Israel was not a refusal to believe on the Messiah to receive eternal life but rejection of God's promise to lead them to the Promised Land. It was an issue of God's mission for them rather than of their salvation. "Rest" is not heaven but the Promised Land itself.

▪ God declared that the "rest" Israel forfeited at Kadesh-barnea is still available to the readers of the book of Hebrews (He 4:1-11). The word "rest" occurs eight times in this and the next chapter.

▪ "Rest" in Psalm 95:11 is the right to worship in the presence of the Lord and to enjoy covenantal blessings.

The first six verses are a call to worship (Ps 95:1-6). The book of Hebrews exhorts its readers to enter God's Sabbath rest (He 4:9-10). The emphasis in chapter 4 is not on cessation of activities but on the privilege to celebrate God's presence among believers. The Sabbath celebration was designed to be a time of festive praise. This kind of "rest" is available to Christians today (He 4:4). Thus, rest for the New Testament believer is worship of God because of the safety of His presence.

▪ "Rest" in Hebrews has to do with Jewish Christians who were about to revert to Judaism. Their challenge was to "hold fast" their confidence in Christ (He 3:6, 14). Otherwise, they might lose their physical lives (He 3:17-19). They needed to enter "His rest" (He 4:1,3) by placing their faith in the life-sustaining God (He 4:4). The resting place for believers is the heavenly sanctuary where Jesus is now seated (He 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2) serving as the believer's High Priest (He 3:1; 4:14; 7:25-8:2; 9:11-15, 23-26; 10:19-22).

Israel is a picture of the believer's walk with God. Israel could have claimed God's promises, but they did not do so because of their unbelief that God would deliver them from the "giants" of the land. The Promised Land is a picture of claiming the promises of God. God's "rest" is the enjoyment of His blessings, His promises.


PRINCIPLE:  Unbelief is a forerunner to failure in the Christian life.


APPLICATION:  The context of the quotation of this verse was when the Israelites approached the Promised Land. God sent out 12 men to spy out the land from Kadesh-barnea. The majority (10) came back with a negative report. They saw their enemies as giants and themselves as "grasshoppers." The minority report from Caleb and Joshua was optimistic. Most people believed the majority report and complained to Moses and Aaron. They refused to enter the Promised Land. We find God's response to this unbelief in Numbers 14:22-23. He did not allow the people who initially came from Egypt to enter the Promised Land. He did not even permit Moses himself to enter the land.  The privilege of worshiping God can be jeopardized by a hard heart (Ps 95:8-10). There are consequences for unbelief.

v. 12: Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God;

Now in verses 12-19 the Holy Spirit applies the lesson of verses 7-11 to Christians. He warns the readers of Hebrews not to commit the same kind of negative volition that the original Israelites committed.

Beware, - The word "beware" is a word of urgent warning. It is amazing that the Israelites could observe the 10 plagues in Egypt, the deliverance at the Red Sea, and the events at Sinai and yet persist in their unbelief.


brethren, - Note that it is "brethren" in question, not non-Christians. Nowhere does Hebrews indicate that the audience was unbelievers. Neither is there any indication here that these people were mere professors but not real believers. Note the phrase "holy brothers" in verse 1.


lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief - The issue of an "evil heart of unbelief" has to do with Hebrew Christians of the first century who were about revert into Judaist practices (He 3:10). They were not to do what God's people did in the wilderness. "Unbelief" is the kind of sin that the original Israelites committed.

They committed unbelief with an "evil heart." "Evil" is active opposition to God. This sin corrupts both self and others by pernicious actions. This evil is not passive or latent but active in the soul. These people have reached a place of active opposition to God. This action is entirely controlled by unbelief where no faith can be found whatsoever. The Lord questioned Moses at Kadesh, "How long will they not believe in Me?" (Nu 14:11). The Lord described this unbelieving heart as "evil" twice (Nu 14:27, 35).  "Unbelief" has nothing to do with personal salvation but of failure to claim the promises of God for our daily lives. Israel failed to believe what God promised.


in departing [turn away] - The word "departing" is the Greek word to apostatize. It comes from two Greek words: off and to stand. Thus, the idea is to stand off from, giving the idea of withdraw. This word is not a technical term for absolute apostasy (ἀποστῆναι). The idea is simply to move away from a point of reference (Lu 2:37; Acts 12:10; 15:38). Israel withdrew from God's Word and promises. They would not listen to His voice. Here "depart" does not mean to leave Christianity; it has the lesser meaning of departing from what God promises. This is the thought presented in the historical section as well (Numbers 14:9 LXX).

These words explain the previous phrase "an evil heart of unbelief" (ἐν τῷ with the infinitive ἀποστῆναι is used epexegetically). The Hebrew readers did not see the claims of Christ clearly. The word "departing" thus means to turn away. The idea is to rebel against God's promises (Nu 14:4, 9; Dt 1:26).

It is dangerous to interpret New Testament Greek words with theological baggage. The argument is not theological apostasy here. The term here describes disobedience that brings divine discipline, illustrated in Moses' day. Numbers 14:20 says that God forgave Israel in response to Moses' prayer. God protected Israel for the next 38 years in the desert. They did not lose their salvation but the opportunity to enter the Promised Land. They did not lose their covenant privileges with God.

The readers of Hebrews had previously believed in Christ as the Messiah exclusively but now were in the process of leaving exclusive trust in Him for Old Testament convictions. They wanted to go back to the Old Testament priesthood and sacrifices.


PRINCIPLE:  Christians need to trust God to meet them in their time of need.


APPLICATION:  The sin of Israel was grievous, but it was not a complete rejection of faith in God. God "pardoned them" by His lovingkindness (Nu 14:19-20). The people mourned greatly over God's judgment on them and confessed their sin (Nu 14:39-45). Both their forgiveness and the failure were part of the same oath.

The caution in this verse is not against a complete departure of faith in God. The problem with the readers of Hebrews was a lack of faith that He would meet them in a time of need (He 2:18; 4:16). Both Moses and Aaron were punished at the same time and with the same discipline received by the generation that came out of Egypt. They also received the same punishment at the same time. The identical Hebrew words are used of them as the sin of the people, "rebellion" (מָרָה) and "unbelief" (לֹא אָמֵן). Note these verses: Num. 14:9, 11; 20:12, 24; Deut. 9:23-24.


from the living God; - God is not remote from His people. He works in them day by day. He actively lives with or engages with them in their experiences. God is not like a god of stone or wood. He interacts with everyone in a living, providential way.

The words "the living God" refer to God's life-sustaining presence by protecting His people throughout their wandering (Exod. 13:21-22; 15:13-17; 17:6-7; 23:20, 23; 33:14-15; 40:34-38; Num. 10:33-34; 11:16-25; 14:7-9). The sin of the Exodus generation was that they developed lack of trust in God's life-sustaining presence (Ex 17:7) and provision for their needs (Nu 11:4-6, 18-23; 14:7-9). The "living God" stands in contrast to idols; God is immortal. This led to their refusal to trust God for their entrance to the Promised Land.


PRINCIPLE:  We exercise unbelief by faulting the living God for our problems.


APPLICATION:  Departure from true doctrine is also departure from the living God, from fellowship with Him. The situation of Israel in the wilderness can be what we face today (1 Co 10:6-11). We can depart from putting our confidence in God by trusting ourselves. This is deliberate disbelief in what God can do in our lives.

Unbelief is self-willed distrust in God. This attitude does not yield to God's judgments or will. Distrust always breaks relationship, whether it is with God or others. 


v. 13: but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.


To help fellow Christians from developing a hard heart, constantly encourage each other in the truth.


but  -  The word "but" is a strong contrast to what has gone before in the preceding verse. Christians who disbelieve what God can do need exhortation.


exhort [entreat] one another daily, - Christians ought to exhort one another day by day; they are to do this each day. They need to constantly watch out for each other. One exercise of exhortation is not enough. Believers have a mutual duty because they have a mutual God and mutual spiritual interests.

"Exhort" comes from the two words para (alongside) and kaleo (to call); Christians are to call fellow believers alongside themselves to help them.


while it is called "Today," - Christians are to deal with their sins while they have opportunity. They are to deal with a present reality. The day may come when some are so hardened by sin that they become insensitive to it and to God. We have no promise for tomorrow. Mature readers of Hebrews must decisively help doctrinally weak believers. They need to help vulnerable believers to act upon God's promises without delay.


PRINCIPLE:  God gives each of us a "today" that we are to keep day by day.


APPLICATION:  Satan uses resolutions; his wish is for us to put them off until tomorrow. He does not care about the resolution so long as we don't fulfill it.  All Christians are to press on with their lives and live them day by day. If we don't, then we might be hardened by sin's deceitfulness, by willful rejection of God's Word. It is important for believers today not to repeat the same experience of the Israelites. If we fortify our hearts against the Word, then it cannot possibly speak to our souls.  Christians have corporate as well as individual responsibilities. God expects us to help fellow believers who go astray.


lest any of you [emphatic] be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.  - The word "you" is set in emphatic contrast to Israel in the wilderness, who carried hard hearts toward God. The word "any" relates to the individual; it makes this hardening personal. A hard heart can blind the mind to God's sure discipline. 

▪ Believers can be misled by the sin of unbelief through its "deceitfulness." Sin can subvert them into false beliefs. Sin will blind people to the genuine blessings of trusting God. Sin seduces the soul away from God.

Deception is characteristic of all sin. When we yield to sin, there is an inherent proclivity to harden our hearts away from God. A hardened heart believes what is false to be true. What it presumes to be a benefit is a wrong. Satan comes as an angel of light, not of darkness. He is the "father of lies."


PRINCIPLE:  There is a tendency to allow sin to harden our souls toward God.


APPLICATION:  Sin is deceitful. It can fool us into believing something we shouldn't. Believers need to guard themselves against a complaining spirit. This sin is particularly deceptive. It creeps into the life almost imperceptibly. When it does, it gradually hardens the heart toward God.  If we practice sin long enough, something happens to our soul over time-it becomes hardened toward God. Unbelief is due to the hardening of the heart; hardening of the heart is produced by sin. The result is to fall away from God.  Israel experienced miracle after miracle and provision upon provision from God, yet they refused to believe. Christians today hear God's Word over and over and yet refuse to take God at His Word. This kind of action provokes God.

v. 14: For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end,

Verse 14 expresses the direction that mutual encouragement is to take.


For - The "for" here explains the nature of the warning in verse 12. Since the readers have already begun the

Christian life, there is an urgent issue for them to address.


we  - The human author includes himself in what is said in verse 14.


have become - The Greek word "become" means to become something which did not exist before. When the readers became Christians, they acquired an entirely new condition before God. Their entire state of existence changed; they held the new status as partakers of the status of Christ. Since we have this new status, we take part in Jesus' house; we belong to the new community called the church.

The tense of "have become" means that the readers became partakers of Christ at a point in the past and remain that way (perfect tense).


partakers [companions, partners] of Christ - The word "partakers" means to stand under. It carries the idea of the foundation of what we believe or the basis of our confidence. This word stands in contrast to "falling away" in verse 12.  Believers share in the dynamics of Christ. We have seen the word "partakers" previously in Hebrews 1:9; 3:1. The Greek tense of "have become" indicates that the Christian shares the same status with Christ timelessly (perfect tense). We are forever partners with Christ. We will not enjoy blessed fellowship with Christ if we do not connect with Him by faith. The readers were genuine participants in Christ; they possessed salvation in Him.


PRINCIPLE:  Christians hold the same status as Christ before God.


APPLICATION:  Since believers hold the same status that Jesus does before God, they have eternal security in Christ. This concept is similar to our status "in Christ" in the epistles of Paul. Since Christ is absolutely righteous in God's eyes, so are we absolutely righteous in His eyes.

if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end,  - The idea of this "if" is not what will be true if Christians hold on to their faith, but what is already true. They show this by their endurance through trial to the end. The "if" here is not conditional but descriptive. It is important to build our faith day by day. There is a very present danger of losing confidence in what the readers of Hebrews believed. It's important to finish well. The idea of "hold" or hold fast is that Christians ground their confidence in what God has done for them. It is not something that they themselves have achieved. The word "hold" was used in secular Greek for that which formed the basis for owning anything. The idea here is not of perseverance, which would imply that if we hold on to our salvation we will be saved, and if not then we will not be saved. Confidence" here in verse 14 denotes assurance. This word means substance, giving the idea of that on which anything is based. It is our title-deed or the substance of what we believe (He 11:1). The idea is to believe in the truth and fact of something; Steadfast" mean stable and strong. 

PRINCIPLE:  It is important to finish well.

APPLICATION:  Continued trust will assure persistent fellowship with the Lord. It is not enough to begin the Christian life strong; we must finish it well.

v. 15: while it is said: "Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion."

The quotation of this verse from Psalm 95 is repeated twice in this chapter for emphasis.

while it is said: - The Holy Spirit again picked up the quotation from Psalm 95:7, 8.

"Today, if you will hear His voice, - The issue in context is hearing God's "voice," or His revelation.

Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion." - The readers of Hebrews were not holding firmly to their original conviction. They were just like those in Psalm 95 who did not hold to the assurance of God's grace. Those who came out of Egypt rebelled against Moses and God.

PRINCIPLE:  Unbelief is refusal to believe God.

APPLICATION:  Unbelief is not the lack of faith; it is refusal to believe God. It also involves stepping out of the will of God.  Unbelief is the cause of many people today turning back from following the Lord. The Israelites hardened their hearts toward God's Word. In doing so they lost their confidence in what God could do for them. Christians have the same danger facing them. It is possible to maintain a facade of belief toward God with a recalcitrant heart.





The Danger of Disbelief - The Second Warning 3:7-19


vv. 7-10: "Today" stresses the urgency of immediate action. This writer used it eight times in Hebrews. The context of the words quoted (Psalms 95:7-11) is very significant. The verses immediately preceding those quoted (Psalms 95:6-7 a) are a call to bow down and worship the Lord. That was the writer to the Hebrews' desire for his readers. The words he quoted urge avoidance of Israel's sin. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ initiated a new Exodus.

  • The writer of Hebrews appeals to his recipients not to become discontented because of their suffering, and not to let discontentment give way to open rebellion-lest they, like their forefathers, lose the blessings of the privileges that now were available to them as believers." [Note: Pentecost, p. 76.]
  • The grand and terrible lesson of Israel's history is that it is possible to begin well and end poorly. In fact, this tragic human tendency dominates much human spiritual experience." [Note: R. Kent Hughes, 1:98.]

v. 11: "'Rest' (katapausis), as used here, points to a place of blessing where there is no more striving but only relaxation in the presence of God and in the certainty that there is no cause for fear." [Note: Morris, p. 35.]

  • "Rest" is another of the writer's favorite words. For Israel, "rest" meant the enjoyment of all that God had promised the nation when they entered the Promised Land, not just entrance into the Promised Land. The next generation of Israelites did enter the Promised Land and experienced rest there because they chose to trust and obey God (cf. Joshua 1:13; Joshua 1:15; Joshua 21:44; Joshua 22:4; Joshua 23:1). For the Christian, "rest" is the enjoyment of all that God has promised us, not just going to heaven. This includes the full enjoyment of rewards that can be ours if we follow the Lord faithfully. All Christians will go to heaven and receive many blessings (Ephesians 1; 1 Peter 1), but some blessings are reserved for believers who continue to trust and obey God when faced with temptations to apostatize. [Note: See the Appendix at the end of these notes.] The crown of righteousness, the crown of life, the crown of glory, etc., are such rewards. Much confusion has resulted because Christians have interpreted "rest" simply as Canaan and heaven. In chapter 4, the writer spoke of "Sabbath rest," which is something different.
  • The comparison between Christ and Moses leads to one between their followers. The writer uses the conduct of the Israelites as a means of challenging his readers to a closer walk with God."
  • The writer next reminded his readers of the fate of the Israelites when they failed to continue believing God at Kadesh Barnea. His purpose was to help them realize the serious consequences of that behavior and to motivate them to persevere faithfully in the apostles' teaching. This exhortation is really a commentary on Psalms 95:7-11 in which the writer assumed a correspondence between the successive generations of God's people and consistency in God's character. In Hebrews 3:6 the writer warned of losing our privilege of serving as priests in the present. Now he warned of losing some of our privileges as heirs in the future.

v. 12: Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. - Here is an exhortation to apply this lesson from the past. Note again that those to whom the writer addressed this epistle were believers: "brethren." Their danger was apostasy, departure from God, not failure to come to God in saving faith. [Note: See Hodges, p. 787.]

  • The rebellion he warns against consists of departing from a living, dynamic person, not from some dead doctrine. Jews might retort that they served the same God as the Christians so that they would not be departing from God if they went back to Judaism. But to reject God's highest revelation is to depart from God, no matter how many preliminary revelations are retained." [Note: Morris, p. 36.]
  • The Greek words translated "to apostatize" (lit. to stand away, aphistemi) and "apostasy" (defection, apostasia) do not by themselves indicate whether believers or unbelievers are in view. The reader must determine this from the context. Here believers seem to be in view (as in Luke 8:13; Acts 15:38; 1 Timothy 4:1; cf. Luke 2:38; 2 Timothy 2:12 b; Hebrews 4:4) since the writer called them "brethren." Some people refer to Christian apostates as backsliders. However the apostates in view here were very serious backsliders. In other contexts, unsaved apostates are in view (e.g., Luke 13:27; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:11). In still other passages there is not sufficient information to pass judgment on their salvation (e.g., 2 Thessalonians 2:3; cf. Titus 1:14).
  • Other Scripture seems to reveal quite clearly that genuine Christians can renounce their faith (Matthew 10:33; Mark 8:32; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 3:8). Experience confirms this conclusion. False teachers have deceived many Christians into believing that the truth that they formerly believed is not true, even truth about Jesus Christ. For example, many young people abandon their Christian faith because a respected university professor convinces them that what they formerly believed is not true.
  • The cults are full of people who formerly professed belief in the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith but who no longer do so. However this does not mean that genuine Christians who become deceived will lose their salvation (John 10:28; 2 Tim 2:13). They will not. We are not saved by our good works, and we do not lose our salvation by our bad works (i.e., failing to persevere faithfully in the faith). Justification is a legal verdict that God renders in which He declares the believing sinner forgiven, and He never rescinds that verdict.
  • No believer today, Jew or Gentile, could go back into the Mosaic legal system since the temple is gone and there is no priesthood. But every believer is tempted to give up his confession of Christ and go back into the world system's life of compromise and bondage." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:288.]
  • As often in Hebrews, references to God as "living" imply that He is the giver of life.

v. 13: But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. - If a sinner continues in his sin, he may conclude that sin does not matter, as the Israelites at Kadesh Barnea did. Their unbelief there was the tenth instance of unbelief since they left Egypt (cf. Numbers 14:22). This is sin's deceitfulness: we may think that because God does not punish the sinner immediately, sin really does not matter. Sin matters very much. The writer counseled his readers to encourage each other to continue to walk with God. He did this to help us avoid the rationalizing that we can get into when we do not confess and forsake our sins. Meeting with other Christians for mutual encourage-ment regularly can be a great help to any Christian in remembering that failing to continue to trust          God will bring bad consequences. Mutual encouragement in godliness is something we all need frequently so we do not become hardened to sin.

  • A hardened attitude is not a sudden aberration, but a habitual state of mind." [Note: Guthrie, p. 107.]

We need to get started "today," while there is still opportunity.

  • One of the best ways of keeping ourselves true is to help other people, and the duty is here set forth of exhorting one another. There is scarcely anything more striking in Christian experience than the fact that in helping others we often help ourselves." [Note: Thomas, p. 44.]

v. 14: For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, -  Even though we are already partakers of a heavenly calling (Hebrews 3:1), we can only partake of all that God wants us to enjoy in the future with the Messiah by persevering. Conversely we can lose the privilege of partaking with Christ fully if we stop trusting and obeying God. Likewise we can lose the privilege of serving as priests to the extent that we could serve as priests by proving unfaithful (Hebrews 3:6; cf. Luke 19:11-27; 2 Timothy 2:12). The condition the writer stated here is the same as in Hebrews 3:6. We must continue to walk by faith, to trust and obey God daily, just as we began the Christian life by faith.

  • A son who leaves home ceases to be an active partner in the home, though he does not thereby cease to be a son!" [Note: Zane C. Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege, p. 76.]
  • To begin well is good, but it is not enough, it is only those who stay the course and finish the race that have any hope of gaining the prize.

v. 15: while it is said, "TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS, AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME." - We see the example of failure in Israel's unbelief at Kadesh-barnea, which the writer repeated for emphasis. Much misinterpretation of the warnings in Hebrews has arisen over failure to appreciate that this writer was drawing parallels between the behavior of God's people in the past (Israel) and the behavior of God's people in the present (the church). Christians face the same kinds of temptations that the Israelites did, and we should learn from their mistakes (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-22).

  • The allusions to Numbers 14 are significant because they indicate that unbelief is not a lack of faith or trust. It is the refusal to believe God. It leads inevitably to a turning away from God in a deliberate act of rejection