There are often times, in the believer's life, when it is difficult to remember that a God who is able to save us can also supply our every need.
We find ourselves worrying, like the rest of the world, about what we're going to eat, where we're going to live, how much money we're going to need, and what people might think about us. Things like this can keep us awake at night.
Satan loves to capitalize on our fears. He hits is with doubt and causes us to question God's place in our lives. With deceit, he makes us think that the temporary giants we face in life are: greater than God's care. And slowly we fall from Doubt to Discouragement to Depression. Instead of fighting the good fight of faith we settle for just getting by. We say things like, "Well, at least I know I'll go to heaven when I die". Our salvation becomes just a date in the past or a promise for the future, instead of a daily relationship lived out in power for the present.
The first warning in Hebrews was "don't drift!" This second warning, found in chapter 3:7 – 4:3, could be summed up with the phrase, "don't doubt!"; don't doubt that God always keeps his promise. Don't allow the world to take away the peace you have in Christ. Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world! You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you! The armor of God is there for your defense. We are not only called to be saved by faith, but to continually live by faith.
I. Old Testament Times: The Disaster of Doubting God in the Wilderness (3:7-19)
7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says:
"Today, if you will hear His voice, 8 Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial in the wilderness, 9 Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, And saw My works forty years. 10 Therefore I was angry with that generation, And said, 'They always go astray in their heart, And they have not known My ways.' 11 So I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest.'"
1. Israel had provoked God
The Jewish people, brought out of Egypt by Moses, had a hope of Canaan. It had been promised to them by God, and it was theirs solely based on the belief that God would keep his promise. They called it the "promised land". They failed to enter it, however, because of their unbelief. The unbelief and complaints of Israel in the wilderness were truly astonishing. They had seen God pour out His plagues upon the land of Egypt. The freed people had experienced a miraculous deliverance at the Red Sea and had seen the Egyptian army washed away by the mighty hand of God. If we did not know the story, we would not imagine how it ends.
Time after time when circumstances were difficult they would say "We should have stayed in Egypt".
2. God had punished Israel
There was an inevitable consequence to Israel's doubt. Israel "provoked" (tested) God; so God punished Israel (3:10-11). They refused to accept all that He had done and was doing for them. God in turn refused to allow them to enter into Canaan rest. He said, "They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My way". God judged an entire generation of people who doubted His protection and provision, so that their children inherited what they could not. God kept his promise to Israel, but he denied a generation who thought their problems were bigger than their God, and "those who died in the wilderness" have become a proverb for doubt and unbelief.
12 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; 13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, 15 while it is said:
"Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion."
16 For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? 17 Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? 19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
The appeal to Old Testament Scripture is now reinforced by the author's application of Scripture.
1. The exhortation
First we see an exhortation to the curious (those who had not truly placed their faith in Christ alone). Even though the author's exhortation begins, "Beware, brethren", it is important to understand that this is a general reference to "Jewish brethren" not to "Jesus' brethren". Remember, this letter was written "To the Hebrews". This group of Hebrews in the church was no doubt made up of converted Jews AND curious Jews that were merely mentally entertaining the claims of Christ, but were tempted to turn back to Judaism. The warning is to beware of "an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God". So, the "evil heart of unbelief" was the root and "departing" was the fruit. Just like the warning in chapter 2:1-4 (Don't Drift) there is a dual application. With the first warning, the converted was admonished "Don't neglect so great a salvation", and the curious was admonished, "Don't reject so great a salvation". Here in chapter three verse 5 the dual application is for the converted, "Don't doubt the God who has saved you", and to the curious, "Don't doubt that God can save you". No matter what profession a person might make, it is his behavior that shows proof of conversion.
Jesus said, "You will know them by their fruit" (Matt. 7:16 NKJV). Just as we are saved by the grace of God through faith, the evidence of your conversion is to live by faith.
"Exhort one another daily"
Sin is a trap that Satan "hides" with deceit. This theme of believers "watching out for each other" is repeated throughout this letter (4:1, 11; 10:24-25; 12:15-16; 13:1-3). The Christian life is not to be lived in isolation; we need each other! We need to be encouraged, lifted, helped, and sometimes rebuked by those who love us and are pursuing Christ-likeness with us. NOT out of pride or envy, but in wisdom and love for the sake of the brother or sister in need. Jesus was clear about the importance of self-examination before we correct others (Matt. 7). However, if the motive is pure, the Word of God can be used profitably for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16&17). We need to help each other in faith to avoid Satan's traps.
"While it is called Today"
There is urgency to the writers warning. The readers are exhorted to hurry to make sure of their standing in Christ. Today! God never promises us tomorrow! Delay is part of sins deceit. There is always risk in letting sin remain until morning.
2. The example (Israel's failure in the wilderness)
The ones, who fell because of unbelief, were the same ones who had seen the work of God. The failure was truly overwhelming. With the exception of Caleb and Joshua, all the spies doubted God. The spies brought back amazing fruit from Canaan, but they also brought back an alarming report of amazing foes in Canaan. Only Joshua and Caleb urged them to have faith in God's promises. The 10 unfaithful spies even cursed the land saying it "devours its inhabitants" (Num. 13:32) The majority of the people panicked at the thought of giants they had not even seen. Here we have an example of "majority rule" outvoting "divine rule". So, the entire generation was judged to wonder in the wilderness until they all died. Here we have a sobering illustration of a "sin unto death" (I John 5:16). They accused Moses of leading them out of Egypt to kill them in the wilderness, but they died there because of their own doubts. They settled for less than God had for them. They simply refused to trust God to keep his promise. As a result they could not inherit the promise. Psalm 95 calls this event "the rebellion".
1 Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. 3 For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: "So I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest,'" although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
We are living in a world that is as barren of spiritual things as the Sinai Desert was of the things needed to sustain Israel on their way to Canaan. The journey from Sinai to Kadesh-barnea (where the spies reported) was supposed to be brief. Canaan could then be subdued quickly by a people ready for conquest. The Hebrew people failed to profit from their wilderness experience and, as a result, were condemned to know nothing better than the wilderness, and to die in the wilderness.
What the wilderness was to Israel, the world is to us. God has something better for us than this world. In Christ, we have every blessing we need – victory, rest, and rich provision. But, just as faith was needed to bring us into an experience of salvation, so faith is needed to bring us into the fullness that there is in Christ. What keeps us from entering God's rest?
"Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it" (4:1). When we trust Jesus we surrender our sinful will to Him. Then far too many spend the rest of their lives taking it back, little by little. It is a serious thing to NOT grow in the Christian life. It is true that a Christian, genuinely saved, cannot lose his salvation, but he can certainly lose his reward. If we live our lives as borderline Christians, we are indistinguishable from the world. How does a life like that glorify God? If its easy to live your life without Jesus, you might be living WITHOUT Jesus.
"For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it" (4:2). The Hebrews at Kadesh-barnea did not identify themselves with faithful Joshua and Caleb, so the good reports these men brought did them no good (Num. 14:7-9). There would be battles in Canaan, but the blessings would far outweigh the battles! Besides, God had promised victory, so it was as if their enemies were already defeated. Of course today we have to wrestle against principalities and powers, against the rulers of this world's darkness, and against wicked spirits in high places (Eph. 6:12), but that is nothing compared with "all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3) and with "the exceeding riches of His grace" (Eph. 2:7). Besides, the enemies we face have all been stripped of their power (see Eph. 1:19-21). With such good news, what a pity it is to fail in doubt.
"For we who have believed DO enter that rest" (4:3) Faith is the God-ordained way of appropriating that which God has already provided for us. The believer does not work to enter into the fullness there is in Christ; he believes. Over and over again when Jesus was with His disciples, He rebuked their lack of faith: when they worried about God's provision for their daily needs (Matt. 6:30), when they worried about God's protection on a raging sea (Luke 8:25), and when they worried about God's power over a demon possessed son (Matt. 17:17).
The God that has saved us from the wicked one can sustain us in this world. We must have faith in Him. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, not panic. He has promised us peace and rest. We must appropriate that peace and rest by faith. Don't doubt!
In closing, the apostle Paul encouraged the believers in Philippi to enjoy the rich rest and perfect peace that God rewards to those who focus fervently on Him,
"Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the PEACE of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things.
9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of PEACE will be with you" (Phil. 4:4-9 NKJV).
Doubt is disobedience, and unbelief is rebellion in the eyes of God. For His greatest gift, our redemption, was accomplished before the world was even formed; because it is not possible for a God to lie and fail to keep His promise.