Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Heb. 3:8 “HARDEN NOT YOUR HEARTS, AS IN THE PROVOCATION, IN THE DAY OF TEMPTATION IN THE WILDERNESS:” (PS 95:8)
It is hard to imagine believers hardening their hearts against God, but it happens. A whole generation of God’s people did it under Moses. Though miraculously redeemed from Egypt’s bondage, they sinned grievously against the Lord.
The place of their sin made the crime even worse. It was in the wilderness, the place of liberty. Egypt had been the land of bondage. The wilderness was a place of deliverance. Nevertheless, the people sinned.
The place of Israel’s rebellion reveals the extent of the old sin nature we bear. They were in a place where no outsiders could tempt them or seduce them. They were isolated, all alone, and yet they sinned.
We carry sin in ourselves, in our own natures. Evil is in our baggage, and cannot be left behind. No place can secure us from sin. A wilderness will not solve our problem—Israel proved that. A paradise won’t cure us either—Adam and Eve proved that.
The key to success in the spiritual is not found in changing our outward circumstances, but in softening our hearts and yielding ourselves totally unto God whatever our outward circumstances may be. A change in your outward situation would not in and of itself improve your spiritual life.
You are wrong if you think prosperity would make you stronger. You are wrong if you think health would make you better. You are wrong if you think removal of trials and afflictions would improve you. You are wrong if you think old age will increase your spirituality.
The essence of Christian living is inward, inside us. The only way to know God is better is to retreat into Him. Concentrate on your inner self, not on outward circumstances.
Heb. 3:9a “WHEN YOUR FATHERS TEMPTED ME, PROVED ME,” (PS 95:9)
What was the “hardening of the heart” which Israel committed? They tempted God by proving Him, that is, they constantly demanded more proof from God. These Israelites are the classic example of unbelief in the face of overwhelming evidence.
They witnessed the ten plagues; saw the pillar of cloud and fire, walked through the Red sea on dry land, saw bitter water turned sweet, and received manna from Heaven. But when they became thirsty at Rephidim, they defiantly asked, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” (EX 17:7).They had seen His power and provision over and over again, yet they provoked Him. They kept wanting more proof, which is merely a pretext, an excuse, a delaying tactic (MacArthur). Anyone who repeatedly tests God has no intention of having faith in Him, but is merely stalling.
Men do not need more proof regarding God and Jesus. They simply need instead to hate their sin and repent. Nothing is more disgusting than unbelief. It refuses to believe simply because it does not want to believe, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Heb. 3:9b “AND SAW MY WORKS FORTY YEARS.” (PS 95:9b-10a)
This was not sin, which Israel committed once and then left behind. It was rather one, which dogged them all their lives. It kept happening. This is what aggravated God, and vexed Him so.
They repeatedly saw the works of God, miraculous things: thunder, lightening, fire, and smoke. They felt the earthquake and one time saw it open up. They heard trumpets blare from Heaven. God tried to instill in them a due fear and reverence of Himself. The water-rock followed them, Aaron’s rod budded, and their garments never grew old. All these experiences, though, failed to draw them neared to God.
It grieves my heart to say, but it is true, the blessings and works of God are still abused and despised. Fickleness is bound up in our hearts. Unbelief is still a besetting sin. We must forever be seeing, or we waver in our faith.
If Israel had ample evidence, how much more do we have today? We have evidence of One who died on a cross, rose again, and sits at the father’s right hand. We also have evidence of a Comforter who ministers to us moment by moment.
Having received abundant evidence of His power and goodness, we tempt God by distrusting Him. Unbelief is its worst when surrounded by evidences of God’s provisions. Christians who refuse to trust God in the midst of His abundant kindness carve their sins in marble.
This is a sin to which we are especially prone in times of testing or trouble. Though repeatedly rescued in the past by His mercy and goodness, when a new and difficult strati confronts us, we often see no means of help and murmur against God by despairing of His ability to deliver.
Oh this grieves God! He is our Friend, and friendships can flourish only in an atmosphere of confidence. Suspicion and distrust destroy relationships.
Jesus deserves steady faith from us. Though all look desperate and hopeless, let us never waver in our confidence. In all distresses, let us trust in Him.
I have walked to graves arm in arm with many of you. Have we not found his grave sufficient?
Unemployment is no stranger among us. Has any of us starved or been thrown out of our house?
We have been battered, bruised, broken, and lied about. But did we ever sense He had deserted us?
We have been a congregation that sometimes did not know from one week to the next where we would meet to worship. Did he ever fail us?
Do we require more miracles than those, which every hour freshly supplies? It grieves God to shower kindness upon kindness, and then have us doubt Him. Beware this insidious sin. The instant you begin to think God is insufficient, you tempt Him. Repent of that sin immediately and ask for greater faith.
Heb. 3:10a “WHEREFORE I WAS GRIEVED WITH THAT GENERATION,” (PS 95:10b)
“Grieved” is too gentle a translation. The original word denotes incensed wrath, vehement displeasure. If you think God does not care how we act, you need to ponder this verse. Some people think God takes no notice of them, especially their sins. Others think He notices, but doesn’t care. Let the wise read this verse and be warned. God does watch our lives, and most definitely care about the way we act. He does take notice of our sins, and He hates them.
Heb. 3:10b “AND SAID, THEY DO ALWAYS ERR IN THEIR HEART;” (PS 95:10c)
In the wilderness, Israel “always” erred. They were habitually evil. They continually added new offenses. Neither kindness nor chastisement could change them. Moses, near then end of his days, told them the harsh truth, “Ye have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you” (DT 9:24)
How could Israel sin so repeatedly, so regularly, so long? Because their bodies were not the only things wandering in the wilderness. Their hearts were, too. Their error was not in the understanding, but in the heart. They had wants and desires contrary to the will of God.
All sin begins in the heart. “The heart of every problem is a problem in the heart” (Wiserbe). The moral actions and attitudes of life are fixed by priorities established in one’s heart.
If evil were only skin-deep, it would not be such a serious thing, but it has a death-grip on the heart, the very seat of our affections, and has defiled every ounce of our being. Solomon wisely counseled, “Keep the heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (PR 4:23).
Heb. 3:10c “AND THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN MY WAYS.” (PS 95:10d)
To know one’s ways is to know one’s traits, mannerisms, likes and dislikes. This allows us in general to predict what a person’s thoughts or reactions may be. Such familiarity comes only through close acquaintance. This is what Israel did not possess. They were the Chosen People, but had not drawn into intimate fellowship with God.
Sadly, this is still the case with many believers. Christians are often content to belong to a formal group of believers. They are members of denominations, but do not truly know the ways of God. Not many are intimate with Him.
Blessings and miracles surrounded Israel, but the meaning behind the deed never soaked into their consciousness. Their inner beings were not influenced. The voice of God rang in their ears at Sinai, but they did not “hear” with their minds.
They hardened their hearts. It was a hardening that persisted forty years. Never turn the wrong way. Once started down the wrong road, it is terribly hard to turn around.