Unbelief = Hard Hearts
7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ 11As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” 12Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
The study of Hebrews absolutely demands we look back into the Old Testament. Once again the writer calls upon a story that every Jewish listener/reader would recall with ease; the unbelief of their forefathers which caused God’s to punish His people with forty years of wilderness wandering. They doubted God and His ability to follow through with His promise to give them the land. Instead, they allowed themselves to be led astray by their fears.
1Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2 And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” 5 Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the people of Israel. 6 And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes 7 and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. 8 If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. 9 Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” 10 Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel. 11 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? 12 I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”
Moses interceded for the people and begged God not to destroy them. He appealed to God’s mercy and love for His people. God relents and rather than destroying them for their unbelief, He sends them into the wilderness.
20 Then the Lord said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. 21 But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, 22 none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.
This is just one of the examples of how the hearts of the people were hardened by their own sin and unbelief. That “hardening” is depicted by a word that reminds me of drying clay. It means to gradually dry out. Their faith dried out. They didn’t avail themselves of the God’s presence and love. Instead, they looked to other gods and their own sinful desires to make them whole. As a result, their hearts grew hard and distant from God.
We cannot help but see ourselves when we look upon these stories. Who among us hasn’t been just as stubborn when it comes to God and His Word? Who hasn’t offered God neglect rather than worship?
But all that can be lost when we fall away from the living God. Yet that seldom begins, at least initially, with an open act of rebellion against God. It usually happens secretly and subtly in the heart with the deception of sin, the heart of people who listen to the voice of temptation rather than God’s voice. That all too readily results in a sense of growing embitterment with God because He does not provide them with what they want. Embitterment in turn leads to mistrust of God’s Word and unbelief in Him. A heart full of unbelief, which is switched off to him and hardened against him, falls away from him as its fount of life, first secretly by its mistrust and then openly by its dissociation from the congregation. The consequences of that are dire. The apostasy of the heart results in the experience of God’s wrath, spiritual death, and exclusion from life with God in his heavenly place of rest. A faithless apostate never enters the promised land together with all God’s people but dies in the desert apart from them and God. Worst of all, the apostasy of a single member affects the whole community because it discourages others and draws them, together with him, away from God. The whole congregation must forestall that.
Kleinig, J. W. ©2017. Hebrews. (C. P. Giese, Ed.) (pp. 192–193). Saint Louis, MO: CPH.
We don’t hear the words “guard your heart” very often any more and perhaps that is a bad thing. I think we need to be reminded all the time to pay attention to what we are feeding our minds and hearts. None of us is impervious to the wiles of the culture and the voices around us. It takes an intentional decision to look toward God and seek His face rather than surrendering to the shouts of the world. But it is the way we guard our hearts and it’s worth the effort.