Paul tells us that Old Testament events happened as examples for us and were recorded for our instruction.1 Hebrews 3:7-14 is the end of a trail of Scriptures. The writer quotes Psalm 95:7-11, which served to remind Israel about hardened hearts during their earliest years as a nation:
“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, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 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. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end. (Heb. 3:7-14)
Obeying God’s voice is essential to “success” in the Christian life. Hebrews devotes two chapters to it, including the warning psalm. To understand the passage fully we must trace the storyline back to Israel’s wilderness wanderings.
In English, Psalm 95:8 mentions Meribah and Massah as if they were two places. In fact, they are Hebrew words meaning “quarrel” and “test.” The original incident happened at Rephidim. Exodus 17:1-7 says that Israel found no water at Rephidim. In their desperate thirst, Israel quarreled with Moses and tested God: “So, can you fix this, or not?” Israel’s desert campground gained a nickname based on their reactions. It happens on our journeys sometimes: we stop for lunch in a city with a perfectly normal name, have an awful meal and the town is known ever-after as “the-place-with-the-burnt-burger-barbeque.” So, welcome to Quarrelville and Testtown!
Was Rephidim the only place where Israel had a bad attitude? Absolutely not. The word for testing is repeated. However, Israel’s response at that particular time “provoked the Lord to wrath” (Deut. 9:22-24) and resulted in her forty-year wandering in the desert.
That shameful memory contained an essential lesson—Israel should have listened to God’s voice and responded to Him in faith. If they had obeyed, they could have entered the Promised Land after a relatively short military campaign and enjoyed all the blessings God intended for them. Instead, like spiritual cholesterol, unbelief hardened their hearts. Israel grumbled and demanded that God end their trial.
God loves to intervene and rescue His people, but in response to their faith. Complaining and demanding come from a failure to believe that God cares or is able to act in the best way at the best time. God rewards faith, not unbelief.2
Circumstances often contradict what God says. To keep our hearts soft we must constantly choose to trust God’s love and power in spite of circumstances. Bible History teaches us that, when we hear God’s voice today, we are to obey. That’s where we find rest.
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